Girl who is allergic to the cold: Abbie, 12, could get deadly allergic reaction with even the slightest chill
08:08 GMT, 13 March 2012
It's been a long, lonely winter for Abbie Tully.
The 12-year-old, who lives in Bournemouth, has been forced to spend the last five months stuck indoors because a rare allergy to the cold could kill her.
She only developed the condition cold urticaria in November last year but since then she has been unable to go outside even for a few minutes and cannot attend an ordinary school.
Cooped up: Abbie Tully, 12, pictured left with mother and full-time carer Nina, suffers from a condition called cold urticaria. Her allergy to cold temperatures means she has been stuck indoors since November
Whereas others her age are free to play in the snow or paddle in the sea, even the slightest chill could lead to a deadly allergic reaction for Abbie.
Not only does the condition cause an angry, burning rash to develop all over her body when she is exposed to the elements, a sudden change in temperature could send her body into anaphylactic shock.
For this reason, Abbie has to keep a self-administering syringe of adrenalin – called an Epi-pen – with her at all times in case the dangerous reaction takes hold.
Reaction: Exposure to the cold causes Abbie's skin to erupt in an angry, painful rash
Even wrapping up warm in the cold
weather has little effect as the condition develops even if only a small
portion of skin is exposed to the cold.
has even had to quit her normal school and attend a special unit for
children with long-term illnesses during the colder half of the year.
Nina Tully, 38, said: 'Both of us have spent the last five months
cooped up indoors and I’ve spent a small fortune on thermal underwear,
hats, gloves, coats and scarves for her.
WHAT IS COLD URTICARIA
Its name meaning 'cold hives', this condition is so rare that it is not known how many sufferers there are in the UK.
It causes itchy, red rashes to flare up on the skin upon exposure to cold temperatures, whether through contact with air, water or surfaces.
Symptoms appear within just a few minutes and can last up to two hours.
Eruptions may appear on parts of the body or all over, while more severe reactions can cause shortness of breath, abdominal pain and an irregular heartbeat.
In the worst cases, it can bring about a drop in blood pressure, shock, collapse and even death.
Swimming in cold water is the most common cause of reactions and, since reactions could pose a risk of drowning, sufferers are advised to avoid entering the water unsupervised.
Suspected sufferers can diagnose the condition by holding an ice cube to the skin for a few minutes. If a distinct and swollen rash emerges, further tests may be required.
Among the underlying conditions associated with the allergy are chickenpox, viral hepatitis and glandular fever.
Very high doses of anti-histamines, the go-to medication for most allergy sufferers, are sometimes prescribed – but in Abbie's case they have no effect.
'Within minutes of being outside the reaction spreads all over her legs, arms and face, even if it’s not that cold.
is desperate for the weather to warm up so she can play outside.
Sometimes all she wants to do is go for a ride on her bike but she
'It’s so hard on her and she is really struggling to make friends because she has been indoors with me for months.'
Mrs Tully, Abbie’s full-time carer, lives in Bournemouth with her husband John, 41, an IT manager.
family moved to the south coast from chilly Edinburgh last year, but
ironically Abbie’s problems only started after the move to the sunnier
end of the country.
Mrs Tully said: 'Abbie has always been a sickly child and developed eczema when she was just four months old.
'Blood tests showed that she was allergic to milk and eggs and then at six months old she was diagnosed with asthma.
'She was always in and out of hospital with chest infections and pneumonia and she’s also allergic to dogs, cats, cows, pollen and feathers.
'However, everything was pretty normal until we moved to Bournemouth. After about six months her problems started.'
In April last year, Abbie went for a dip in the sea and emerged covered head to toe with red, itchy hives.
Doctors at first suspected a water allergy, but when the weather turned cold Abbie suddenly erupted in the rash again.
One day in November, while waiting for the school bus, Abbie turned red and the hives spread all over her face and body.
Mrs Tully said: 'She rang me up
hysterical and begged me to let her come home. The reaction was awful
and she said people were staring at her – she was mortified.
'Up until that point it had not been
that cold but that was the first of the cold weather. She’s been at home
pretty much ever since.'
A dermatologist at Christchurch Hospital, in Dorset, diagnosed Abbie with cold urticaria, a rare allergy to the cold.
The hives are a histamine reaction in
response to cold stimuli, including a drastic drop in temperature, cold
air and cold water.
Deadly: As well as the rashes seen above, Abbie's condition means a sudden change in temperature could cause her to go into anaphylactic shock
Abbie cannot attend ordinary school
because walking in and out of the school buildings – even for just a few
minutes – will lead her to have a painful reaction.
Instead she attends a special
learning centre for children who have missed long periods of school four
days a week and gets a taxi to and from home.
Mrs Tully said: 'We are still
learning how to cope. Things like thermal underwear only help while she
is outside, but then often leave her too hot when she gets indoors.
No cure: Abbie shows the allergy's effect on her face. The danger of more severe symptoms means she has to carry an adrenaline syringe at all times
'Even standing in the salad aisle at the supermarket can set off her reaction as its slightly colder than the rest of the shop.
'If she fell in some cold water or if the temperature suddenly changed, she could have a very dangerous reaction in which her body would go into shock.
'That’s why she carries her Epi-pen wherever she goes and all her teachers know how to use it in an emergency.
'Mortified': The rash spreads to young Abbie's hands. The 12-year-old has to attend a special learning centre for children who have missed long periods of lessons
'Since November we’ve been pretty much locked in the house. I was going to take her shopping with a friend the other day but despite the fact the weather is getting milder it was still too cold.
'Instead I took her to her friend’s house and it was the first time she had been able to do that in nearly six months.'
Mrs Tully believes Abbie’s allergy developed following a viral infection but unfortunately there is no cure.
Anti-histamines are sometimes prescribed for sufferers but in Abbie’s case they have little effect.
So few people in the UK suffer from cold urticaria that it is not known how many people have it.