Swimmer's Issue: Allergy to Cold Water?

Swimmer's Issue: Allergy to Cold Water?

I've been swimming a lot lately and after a workout last week, one of the other ladies was asking me about where I got my bathing suit. I couldn't help but notice her skin. I said, "I'm no doctor, but I think you've broken out in hives." She just laughed and said that it always happens when she swims in cold water. I couldn't believed she was so nonchalant about it, since her body looked like a range of moguls on a Black Diamond ski trail. She said it doesn't hurt and always goes away, so she thought it wasn't a big deal.


When I went home, I couldn't get that image of her hive-covered skin out of my mind, so I decided to do a little Internet research. In the medical world, this condition is called physical urticaria. To see the risks it poses, read more.

When a person has this condition, there's a physical trigger that causes raised skin welts like what you see in the photo above. It could be set off by heat, cold, sunlight, exercise, or water. More specifically, cold uticaria is an allergic reaction, where the skin produces histamine in response to cold temps, in this case to cold water. Apparently it's pretty common for 18 to 25 year olds, but it only lasts for five to six years.

The woman at the gym said that her rash is pretty mild and usually goes away after an hour or two. Reactions can be more serious though causing shortness of breath, stomach pains, or a rapid heartbeat. In severe cases, low blood pressure, fainting, shock, or even death can occur. I always thought swimming was so good for people. I had no idea it could be such a health risk.

Have you or someone you know ever experienced anything like this?

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