Calum Courtney was four-years-old when he had his first outbreak of hives in response to cold weather, a condition called cold urticaria
Millions of children would be desperate for an excuse not to walk to school — but Calum Courtney actually has a medical reason to get a lift.
The 14-year-old, of Basildon in Essex, is allergic to the cold, and can break out into hives if exposed to temperatures below 24C (75F) for longer than 15 minutes.
His family keep the heating on all day and drive him to school because they fear he could suffer an allergic reaction.
Calum’s condition is, his parents claim, so severe that even having an arm or a leg poking out the duvet at night is enough to cause him to break out into hives on his face, arms and legs. He has had to give up playing football and has to wear full-on tracksuits to keep his body covered.
Although it’s usually just a cause of itchy rashes and hives, cold urticaria can trigger anaphylaxis — which can be deadly.
Discussing the potential threat Calum faces from day-to-day life, his mother Tupney said: ‘You don’t know what reaction he could have.
‘He could have an anaphylactic shock. It is not beyond the realms of possibility even though he hasn’t, it could happen at any point.’
Calum pictured here (right) with his father David Courtney is driven to school every day as his parents fear walking to school would trigger his condition
Even sleeping with an arm or leg outside the duvet is enough to case Calum’s skin to break out in itchy red rashes
What is cold urticaria?
Urticaria is also known as hives, weals, welts or nettle rash.
It is a raised itchy rash on the skin and can appear on a single body part or across large areas.
The blotches themselves can range in from a few millimeters to the size of a hand.
It is triggered by the body flooding the blood stream with a chemical called histamine as part of an allergic response.
These potential triggers are numerous ranging from foods, to fabrics, pollens, to cold and heat exposure.
Urticaria is a relatively common condition, with one in five Britons estimated to develop it at some point in their lives.
However, cold urticaria is much rarer, with studies estimating only 0.05 per cent of Europeans have some form of the condition.
The exact cause of cold urticaria is unknown but it usually appears in young adults, with women more likely to have it than men.
For those few people that have it the symptoms can vary from mild rashes to severe problems like trouble breathing.
These symptoms usually appear a few minutes after exposure and last a few hours.
It is usually diagnosed by a medical professional placing a cold object like an ice cube against a patient’s forearm for a few minutes and observing the reaction.
There is no known cure for cold urticaria though it has been known to disappear after several years.
People with the condition are generally advised to avoid the cold.
They can also be prescribed antihistamines and even an adrenaline auto-injector in some cases.
Ms Courtney, whose partner is finance manager David, told how cold urticaria was affecting every aspect of Calum’s life.
‘He can’t play out or play sports. He had to stop playing football because his whole face swells up,’ the 38-year-old mother-of-two said.
‘He can’t be outside for long if it’s cold. He goes out and has to keep coming back in. He always gets really hot because we have to wrap his skin up.
‘He used to really get upset because he really wanted to play football.’
She added that even wrapping up with layer upon layer of clothing isn’t enough to stave off the cold-induced reaction.
‘He breaks out on whatever part of the body is cold. At first, it’s the parts of the body that aren’t clothed like his face and hands,’ she said.
‘If he’s out long enough, it’s everywhere even with three layers of clothes.
‘It starts off like little red dots, it looks like chickenpox then they get bigger and join together.
‘They’re so uncomfortable. He said it feels pinchy, prick feeling, like stinging nettles then it gets really itchy.’
Ms Courtney said the scariest moments are when Calum is exposed to water below his threshold.
‘He goes bright red and says it feels like it’s burning. That’s a different feeling and he comes over not well, like he’s going to pass out.
‘You have to really warm him up and try and get him warm from the inside with hot drinks.’
As a mother she said she had to be vigilant for every possible cold scenario he could be exposed to, such as an icepack for an injury.
Calum’s first run in with cold urticaria happened when he was four, playing outside at a family wedding.
His family wrongly assumed his hives were some kind of reaction to pollen or a plant and gave him some anti-histamines.
However, Ms Courtney said the reactions kept coming back. The trigger of his hives only became clear when the winter came around.
‘As we went into winter, it started to get terrible,’ she said. ‘He used to play football at school on a Friday and as it got colder, he’d be wearing a tracksuit and under armour and he would still be smothered in lumps all over him.’
After a decade-long struggle, Ms Courtney claimed they just wanted some kind of treatment to enable Calum to do the things he wanted to.
Calum’s family initially suspected he had had an allergic reaction to a kind of pollen or plant after suffering a reaction while playing outside at a wedding. Tupney Courtney (right) with a younger Calum (left)
Ms Courtney (left) said she wanted to find a medical expert specialising in cold urticaria to help Calum (right) do the things any young teenager wants to do like play football
While the main symptom Calum experiences is red itchy rashes his family live in fear him one day experiencing a more serious and life potentially threatening allergic reaction
Calum’s family have to have the heating on full blast every day to avoid him breaking out in a painful rash
WHAT IS ANAPHYLACTIC SHOCK?
Anaphylaxis, also known as anaphylactic shock, can kill within minutes.
It is a severe and potentially life-threatening reaction to a trigger, such as an allergy.
The reaction can often be triggered by certain foods, including peanuts and shellfish.
However, some medicines, bee stings, and even latex used in condoms can also cause the life-threatening reaction.
According to the NHS, it occurs when the immune system overreacts to a trigger.
Symptoms include: feeling lightheaded or faint; breathing difficulties – such as fast, shallow breathing; wheezing; a fast heartbeat; clammy skin; confusion and anxiety and collapsing or losing consciousness.
It is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment.
Insect stings are not dangerous for most victims but a person does not necessarily have to have a pre-existing condition to be in danger.
An incremental build-up of stings can cause a person to develop an allergy, with a subsequent sting triggering the anaphylactic reaction.
She said: ‘Most other countries have epi pens for it. Over here it’s not the same, it’s infuriating. It’s impossible to get something to help.
‘It’s really difficult. We need help.
‘It’s ten years of struggling, I wish we could get him a proper anti-histamine that meant he could play out without looking like he’s got a disease.’
Doctors have suggested a lifestyle change to avoid the cold but Ms Courtney said: ‘You can’t change your life and move abroad.’
Very little is known about cold urticaria. Ms Courtney added: ‘It’s a constant battle of trying to prove it to people.
‘They think he’s saying he doesn’t like the cold. It’s so frustrating that no one believes him. He gets people saying “what’s on your face?”.’
Studies estimate around 0.05 per cent of Europeans — or one in 2,000 — suffer from cold urticaria.
No one knows exactly what causes cold urticaria, according to the US-based Mayo Clinic.
It states: ‘Certain people appear to have very sensitive skin cells, due to an inherited trait, a virus or an illness.’
Most people are diagnosed when young adults with women more likely to get it than men.
It has no known cure, although it has been known to resolve itself and disappear after several years.
‘It was happening all the time and we started to realise that if his arm was out of the quilt, that would come up in hives but the rest of him wouldn’t so we started to see it was the cold.’
Ms Courtney said the family have been left searching for more information on the condition and advice after, a doctor advised to just keep him warm and out of the cold.
‘The doctor said it was the cold. That was it, we didn’t get referred anywhere, there wasn’t much knowledge of it,’ she said.
Calum ofen gest asked “what’s on your face” and is treated with skepticism when he says he is allergic to the cold
The condition prevents Calum from enjoying swimming as cold water causes him to break out into hives