A mum who develops a severe rash and chokes from the slightest gust of wind is dreading winter – as she’s allergic to the cold.
Jen Ferguson, 37, from Tunbridge Wells, Kent, will not be able to play in the snow this winter and even a single cold gust of wind can cause her to have a severe reaction.
The-mum-of-two suffers from chronic urticaria - a condition that causes itchy blotches to erupt all over her body - and causes her throat to balloon if she gets too cold or overheats.
Since being diagnosed in January this year, she has not been able to leave the house without covering herself from head to toe in layers to avoid a flare-up.
Jen, a former teacher, said: “It feels like I’m allergic to life because my skin is so sensitive and my body is continuously attacking itself.
“If the wind blows, if I get too cold or overheat, if I exercise, get stressed or suffer any heightened emotion I’ll have an bad reaction it’s pretty terrible.
“I erupt into thousands of hives at any moment as well as my face and throat swelling which makes it’s difficult to breathe."
She added: “I have to control my hive flare-ups by covering up with layers, because if I get too hot or too cold I can have a serious reaction.
“My life now requires a lot of preparation I have to carry round a special bag of extra layers to cover my body if I get too cold.
“One minute I’ll have to wear lots of warm thermal layers with the heating on full while my husband and kids are sweltering in their shorts and t-shirts.
“Then the next minute I need to take the layers off and open all of the windows, it’s a constant balancing act.
“For me it would be horrendous if we had a snow storm because I’d be both cold and wet which would make it very difficult for me.
“I feel sad knowing that I won’t be able to play in the snow with my sons, I absolutely won’t be able to go skiing either which is really sad.”
In December last year Jen suffered her first symptoms of chronic urticaria, she was at the zoo when she noticed her body was covered in itchy spots.
She was rushed to the hospital with husband Al and sons Louis, 10 and Teddy ,14-months, to find out why she was having the allergic reaction.
Doctors later diagnosed her after the symptoms persisted and since then she’s not had a day without her body being covered in hives.
Jen said: “I remember suddenly feeling my whole body itch and when I looked I was covered ankle to neck in thousands of blotches.
“I was terrified, I didn’t know what was happening but seeing how many hives were on my skin made me realise how serious it was.
“I didn’t realise at the time but it was the cold air that set off a reaction.
“Since then I’ve not had a single day without hives – it’s all over my body, the souls of my feet to my scalp – even doctors couldn’t work out how many there were.”
The only respite for Jen is a cocktail of 16 tablets every day, consisting of antihistamines, anxiety and asthma medication and getting into a scolding hot bath to try and sooth her skin.
Recently she has had to quit her job as a primary school teacher due to constantly having allergic reactions during classes.
She added: “If my face swells up during class I have to go home and I can’t do that when I have a class of 30 children.
“When a reaction begins my skin starts to get hotter, then my lips and ears start to swell up and I’m so itchy that I scratch to the point where I bleed.
“I also have swelling of my eyelids, lips, face and throat, it just is scary and I worry about how I look every day.
“I have had a lot of adapting to do, even when I leave the house I put myself at risk of a urticaria reaction if I get too hot, too cold or stressed I can erupted into painful welts.
“Even simple tasks like hanging washing on a line would bring me out in hives because of the damp and coldness together.
“I don’t even drink hot or chilled drinks because I know they will set me off.
“For my son’s birthday party they were all in shorts and t-shirts while I had to put on a big hoodie but it’s just one of those things that I get on with.
“Thankfully my family have been so supportive of everything that I’ve been through it’s amazing.”
“Soon I will be starting a very strong medication that should mean I won’t have such severe reactions.”
You can read more about Jen’s story on her blog: www.thedadnetwork.co.uk/2015/09/life-with-chronic-urticaria.html
There are believed to be more than 630,000 people with chronic urticaria in the UK.
Norfolk & Norwich University Hospital consultant dermatologist Dr Clive Grattan, who treats Jen for her condition, said: "Cold contact urticaria is an unusual presentation of urticaria that is triggered by cooling of the skin.
"The cause is not known but the symptoms of itching and swelling are mediated by histamine that is released from mast cells in the skin after cold exposures.
"Being outside in a cold wind or picking up a pack of frozen food, for instance, can trigger symptoms in a susceptible person so the condition can be difficult to live with.
"Antihistamines provide the main treatment until the condition becomes better naturally over months or years."
Allergy UK spokesperson Maureen Jenkins said: “Those with chronic urticaria can develop an itchy red rash which can be associated with a burning sensation or even pain with deep tissue swelling called angioedema.
“These hives are caused by the body releasing histamine into the skin.
“Chronic urticaria can last for more than six weeks – some people can grow out of the condition but sufferers may have it for many years, sometimes it can be for life.
You can find out more information on www.allergyuk.org or by calling the helpline 01322 619898