BY JENNA BRAUN
Perilous, life-threatening, dangerous – these aren’t words that are typically associated with winter here in Kitchener. For my sister, however, they are accurate. Skating at city
down the perfect Christmas tree and sledding down Mount Trashmore are activities that could literally result in her death.
Shana Braun is allergic to the cold. She has cold urticaria, a rare, chronic skin disorder in which the skin’s surface reacts to cool temperatures.
Itchy, red hives appear on the exposed part of her skin whenever she is subjected to anything under 18 C. Most people with this disorder react to temperatures below 4 C.
Accompanying the hives are many other uncomfortable and even painful reactions.
“On days like today, when the air is really dry and cold, my chest hurts,” Shana said. “It’s hard for me to breathe. The inside of my nostrils and my ears swell up.”
Whenever there is moisture in the air like rain or snow, she has to wear a balaclava over her face, otherwise in minutes her face will become swollen, red and painful. When her feet get cold, she says it feels like she’s walking on glass.
Things weren’t always this tough for her though; these reactions only began to occur this past summer. Throughout July, Shana
would complain of swollen and sore hands while she was working or driving. She figured it was an allergic reaction, she
just wasn’t sure to what.
She really didn’t feel like anything was overly wrong until we took a trip to Grand Bend that same month. It seemed like any other beach visit; we enjoyed lots of sun and refreshing cool lake water, but after spending just 20 minutes swimming, Shana noticed patches of red, coarse bumps surfacing on her legs, arms and torso, eventually covering most of her body.
After that day, she scheduled a doctor’s appointment, deciding it was time to find out what her body was reacting negatively to.
Her family doctor, Rodney Bruce, informed her that the cool temperature of the water had caused the hives.
Her swollen hands over the previous weeks had been caused by holding iced cappuccinos. He diagnosed her with cold urticarial after performing an ice test on her arm, a test done by placing an ice cube or pack on the forearm for a couple of minutes. A distinct, red, swollen welt develops almost immediately.
“I was stunned. I’ve never had to deal with this before,” Bruce said. “I only learned about it back in medical school.”
Shana says Bruce escorted her around the office, showing the other staff her welt. She was told to refrain from swimming again, and Bruce somewhat jokingly advised her to consider moving to a warmer climate. Her entire life has changed drastically since she was diagnosed. Even the simplest
of daily activities can be problematic for her.
“When I’m cooking, frozen chicken hurts my hands,” she
said. “I can’t use cooling face masks or chew minty gum because menthol makes my brain think I’m cold. I always
have to ask for no ice. I can’t wear any necklaces that are made of metal. In every area of my life, something is
messed up from it.”
There are two forms of the disorder: essential (suddenly
acquired) and familial (hereditary). Shana has essential cold urticaria, as hers began to develop at the age of 27. No one else in our family suffers from this allergy. It is currently unknown as to how a person develops cold urticarial seemingly out of the blue.
According to allergy and clinical immunology specialist Dr. Harold Kim, Shana’s allergy will remain anywhere from 10 more years to the rest of her life. She has to carry two EpiPens with her at all times. Except for our family and Shana’s close friends who have physically seen her hives and swollen skin, people don’t immediately believe her. Shana often gets accusations that she exaggerates, or people miscomprehend the
“In the summertime, the temperature went down a little and my arms got a rash,” she said. “My friend was like, ‘Am I going to catch this?’ They just don’t understand. “I started a new job and theyput me in a hotel where I had to walk a few blocks to get to
the workplace, but I said no, that I needed to be put in the hotel right across the street. When I explained why, they were like, ‘Are you going to be calling sick into work?’ It’s embarrassing. I feel like I come off as very high maintenance.”
According to rarediseases.org, with each pregnancy there is a 50 per cent chance that a person with cold urticarial will transmit the disorder to their offspring.
As someone who has yearned to have children for a few years now, Shana may have a child suffer the same way she does.
Though my family and I can’t really relate to her situation, we try to help her when we can. For Christmas this year, she received multiple scarves and thick wool socks to help keep her warm. Our mom keeps a close eye on her to ensure she’s avoiding those iced cappuccinos she used to love.
“I have to do so many things differently,” Shana said. “And there are so many things I love that I can’t do anymore. Swimming, overnight camping, hiking. It really, really