On the calendar today (for the United States), it marks the official start of the winter season (December 21). This means that it is going to be cold for the next 3 months, until spring finally arrives. I am actually getting optimistic. I can’t wait for warm weather to get here, and I plan on trying to get my tail outside way more this season than I did last season.
But this also serve as a warning to cholinergic urticaria sufferers: Watch out. Where there is extreme cold, there is bound to be a warmer area somewhere. When you walk into that warmer area, you risk getting hives.
I have mixed feelings about cholinergic urticaria in the winter vs summer. Each has its pros and cons. One on hand, I’ve always loved how the winter is so easy to keep cool. If you walk outside, do chores, etc–then you usually don’t have to worry about hives.
On the other hand, it is much more difficult to sweat in the winter. If you go from a cool weather and then change to go into a hot room, it can cause your hives to go crazy. On the flip side, summer means constant heat. But if you can get to sweating, then you’ll probably be fine.
Cholinergic Urticaria Can Be Better on Cold Days
AAAHH! I just stepped out today to do some errands. I live in Tennessee, and hurricane Ike has just passed up to the north of the country. Since it has passed, there has been a huge rush of cooler weather in this region.
It went from in the high 80’s low 90’s (extremely hot and muggy), to the 70’s (very cool and not muggy). All I can say is, I am in heaven! When I walked outside, it actually felt cooler than it did in my apartment. It was such a relief walking outside and not getting a thousand prickly/itching hives all over my upper torso. I hate how I get itching when I get hot!
I actually feel like I am human again! I know I will still break out if I get hot, but I have much fewer breakouts or hives reactions during cooler weather, simply because it is easier for me to maintain my core body temperature without the sudden spikes with the increase of heat. I suppose these next few months will be the best! No heaters on the inside of building yet, and it will be cool outside. AAAHH a little relief!
In terms of the diet, I have been avoiding excessive starchy foods (such as rice, potatoes, breads, etc.). I have also been avoiding milk. I will stay on this diet for a while, because I have decided not to be quite as hard on myself as I first planned. It is just way to hard cutting out all sweets, plus milk, plus starchy carbs. I have to have some foods, so I am changing the diet a bit. I am just avoiding milk, excessive starchy foods, and I am reducing my sugar intake, but I will still consume sugary snacks.
It may be hard to tell if the diet is working though, since it has finally cooled off a lot and I won’t be getting as hot as usual.
Cholinergic Urticaria Definitely Gets Worse in Winter For Some
But one thing this cold weather has shown me is that cholinergic urticaria definitely gets worse in the winter at times for some. I have read in several other articles online that people with Cholinergic Urticaria tend to get worse during the winter. I have been much more reactive now (when exposed to heat), to the point that I truly fear having to go out in public at all. I hate the intense sensation that a cholinergic urticaria outbreak can cause.
I can only speculate that what is making it worse is the extreme dryness and coldness of my apartment. During the winter, I do not generally turn the heat on. My wife and I try to tough it out by wearing extra layers during the day and blankets during the night to keep ourselves warm. Plus, since it is an actual apartment, it never gets too cold since there are neighbors above and to the sides of our unit and that helps keep in insulated. However, it can still get as low as 55 on the thermostat during the dead of winter. So it definitely gets chilly.
One thing I have noticed that is a big “NO NO” is taking hot showers during this cold weather. It seems as if the hot showers really rob my skin of moisture or something, and make the breakouts even more severe. I experienced this just the other day. Right after I got out of the shower and dried off, I noticed that I was really way more reactive.
I used to love just standing in the hot water of a shower before I got cholinergic urticaria. I would get the water as hot as I could stand it, and just sit there and relax. But now I have to watch out for that. I don’t really break out in the shower, though.
When I first got CU, I did break out in the shower if the water was too hot. But now that doesn’t happen too often. I try to keep the water luke-warm, and I try to be quick so that I do not stay in it long. As I have mentioned before, I have extremely HARD water where I live, and the water even dries out my wife’s skin.
That brings me to a few tips I thought I would share with you to help manage your skin during these up and coming winter months:
Tips for Keeping Your Skin Moisturized During Winter Months:
- Try to take “warm” showers instead of “HOT” showers. This prevents your skin from getting so dry during the winter months. Plus, it cuts down on hives reactions in the shower for those of you that still experience this.
- Try to spend less time in the shower– in other words- try for a 5-10 minute shower instead of a 15 minute shower. Get in, get clean, and get out.
- Use Moisturizing Soap– Try to find a soap with a lot of moisturizers in it. Soap brands such as Dove, etc. often have brands with extra moisturized soap that leaves your skin less dry and more moisturized.
- Don’t Scrub Your Skin Too Hard– Wash gently and don’t scrub too hard on your skin. Scrubbing too hard can irritate your skin and make it more dry or uncomfortable.
- Take showers less often. You may want to consider taking showers less often during the cold months. This is something I have already started doing these past few days. Instead of taking a shower every day, try every other day. Or even every two days. You can always “spot” wash any dirty areas if necessary in between showers. Taking showers or baths less often helps the natural oils of your skin come out.
- Get a good moisturizing lotion, emollients, or oils. There are several things you can use to help keep your skin more moist. You can use standard moisturizing lotion. I have also heard of some people using a thin layer of Vaseline during the winter months to prevent dry skin (although I really haven’t used it as I feel it makes me feel too greasy). Oils are also good at preventing your skin from drying out excessively. I have mentioned before in other posts that I sometimes use a very thin layer of extra virgin olive oil during these winter months. It doesn’t really prevent a hives breakout (I wish!), but it does keep my skin more oily which does help prevent dryness. Most experts say it is best to apply any lotions or oils within the first few minutes of getting out of the shower so your skin can quickly absorb it. So I usually get out, dry off with a towel, apply the thin layer of lotion or oil, and then get dressed.
- Consider a vaporizer or humidifier– These can help add moisture to your living space. This helps a lot by keeping a more humid atmosphere, and preventing everything from getting too dry. Just make sure it doesn’t get too moist, or you might find walls developing a mold problem.
- Crank Up the Heater if Necessary-It may help to use both a heater and humidifier (or vaporizer) to make it even more humid. Of course, I am a cheapskate and I try to avoid turning up the heat as much as possible right now. But as I mentioned in another post, one person said they fully manage their CU by simply keeping it hot and muggy while they sleep. I have yet to try this, but I bet it does at least help keep the skin more moist.
- Try to Limit Extreme Cold Exposure– The cold winter months can be hard on your skin. If you find yourself outside, try to avoid long periods of cold exposure to your skin. This can make your skin more dry, chapped, and uncomfortable. Instead, try to limit direct cold air from hitting your skin as much as possible by wearing protective clothing and using lots of moisturizers.
Keeping your skin moisturized won’t necessarily prevent outbreaks of hives. However, I have found that it at least makes your skin feel better, and it may help 5-15% or so in protecting against an attack. When my skin is excessively dry, my attacks seem worse.
I hope these tips will help you keep your skin smooth and silky during the cold winter months!
First Snow of the Season in Tennessee
Finally we are going to get a decent snow today (according to the forecast we could get 1-3 inches total). This is cool because it seems like it has been a few years now since we last got a decent snow. Here is what it looks like so far and it is supposed to get worse:
I always used to love snow when I was little, and I would always grab a sled and go down the bill hill down my mom’s house. There are lots of great hills around where I live, and one time I even found one that I can snowboard down-which was a blast. It was the only time I have ever been “snowboarding” but it was fun.
I still like the snow to this day. I hate cold weather, but I love snow. I wish it was only cold on snowy days, and the other days it was like 75 degrees or something =).
Even though I am enjoying the snow, I still can’t wait for warm weather to get here. I am hoping for a nice sunny, warm, and humid summer so I can get sweaty and hopefully hives free (at least for the summer).
Update 11/18/11 on Hives
I am so very happy and enthusiastic to say that so far, despite cooler weather settling in, my hives have been 100% under control just as in the summer. This means I am able to go shopping, lift heavy weights in an intense workout, and more–all without fear of Cholinergic Urticaria stopping me and ruining my life. I am able to sweat fully as well.
I am doing this without antihistamines, steroids, or other pharmaceutical drugs which may potentially have side effects. I am so very pleased and I hope and pray daily that I can sustain this for the rest of my life.
Update on my Diet
I am also just as pleased to say that I have finally been able to expand my diet to include more veggies and snacks, without my hives coming back. This is great because I was starting to worry about the long term effects of my very restricted diet I was on previously. The foods I eat now look something like this:
- Sweet potatoes
- Sunflower Oil (for baking/frying)
- Cane Sugar/Maple Syrup/Most sugars
- Flour (white rice flour, millet flour, quinoa flour, brown rice flour)–which I use to make pancakes, cookies, rolls, etc.
- Bananas, strawberries, blueberries, pears
- Ketchup (sparingly)
- broccoli, carrots, lettuce, squash (all kinds)
I am still avoiding dairy, fast food, wheat, excessively processed foods, packaged snacks/candies, etc. I am also eating within my calorie range.
I am totally happy that I have been able to expand without skin symptoms, hives, or any stomach issues. So needless to say this has probably been the best year for me in a long time. I am healthy, my diet is good, I am exercising and slowly building muscle, and things are going well.
If you still have CU and are dreading the winter and having bad attacks, I strongly suggest you experiment with diet (among the other things I listed below). Someone on the forum recently mentioned a documentary called, “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.” The documentary follows a guy named Joe Cross, who had chronic urticaria (although I don’t think it was CU, just regular urticaria). It is on Netflix right now by the way, if any of you want to watch it.
I actually did watch most of it (although I skipped some parts). The guy goes on a veggie/fruit blender diet and lost a lot of weight, and his hives improved tremendously. He also got a truck driver who was overweight (and also had urticaria vasculitis if I recall correctly), and his hives also improved to the point of no longer needing medication.
The video seemed to suggest that the weight loss and healthy eating seemed to be the key factor that made their hives get better. I thought that was interesting, and I have certainly noticed the same thing–dropping weight, getting in shape, sweating regularly, and eating healthy (and minimizing food sensitivities).
Help For Those Who Still Have Hives
I am going to, when I get the time, write a comprehensive post in extreme detail about everything I’ve done. But since this will take a lot of time (and I am always so busy), I will list the main points below. Here are things I would recommend every person talk to their doctor about and try if you are still suffering.
These are all the things I am doing basically. Again, only attempt the following if you have spoken to a doctor and got approval. These things may not be safe or practical for all people.
- Diet–You need to do 2 things here: Remove foods that you may be unknowingly allergic or intolerant to, and eating within your means (to achieve a healthy weight with minimal body fat). An allergy elimination diet can help you realize what may be causing problems. Dairy and wheat are often main culprits, as are excessive preservatives and additives.
- Exercise regularly–This not only helps reduce inflammation in your body by eliminating inflammation-causing fat, but the regular sweating has been known to help keep Cu symptoms away for most people. One thing I do now that it is winter is to put a vaporizer in my workout room for a while first, so that it is nice and steamy. If you have severe CU, or anaphylaxis issues, it may not be safe to do this. Talk to a doctor first, and take precautions (such as having an epi-pen or adult with you).
- Supplement if Necessary–I take Calcium (since I don’t eat dairy), a daily multivitamin, Vitamin D3, and 2 different kinds of probiotics (digestive advantage and probiotic pearls). Probiotics help digest food, and may help the immune system as well. Some people on the forum have been tested and have been found to be extremely deficient on certain vitamins (such as vitamin d). You can buy most supplements over the counter, and your doctor can give more information on this (or give a simple blood test to check for deficiencies in a certain vitamin).
- Super Skin Moisturization–Since winter is coming here in the US, you need to take action to keep the skin damage free from the cold weather and low humidity. I have been doing this and have gotten INCREDIBLE results. Here is what I do: Cooler showers (not piping hot), shower filter (made by Culligan) that removes scale and chlorine that irritates skin), use Eucerin Calming Creme 1-2 times per day as needed (immediately after a shower), a vaporizer runs at night while I sleep and during the day in whatever room I’m in at the moment to add humidity to the air. My skin has thanked me!
- Removing external allergens–If you are allergic to any environmental things, avoid them as much as possible. For example, if you are allergic to pets, minimize contact.
- Hypoallergenic Products--I use hypoallergenic detergent (by All brand), hypoallergenic soap by Dove, Old Spice deodorant, Eucerin lotion, and that is pretty much all that touches my body. I also have dust-mite proof bedding, no carpeting in my house (all hardwood laminate), and keep my house cleaned regularly. The idea is to remove all sources that could potentially inflame your body or cause an allergic response. I also have no pets, and as much as I love animals, I’d never live with one again (my mom has 5 indoor pets, and I grew up with it).
I would strongly recommend that everyone still suffering with hives take the time to do the above. It has paid off tremendously for me. Some things weren’t easy (exercising, altering my diet, etc.), but I am so much happier and healthier now.
As I said, I hope that within the next few months I can re-organize this site a bit and make a few minor changes. I hope to also expand on what I wrote above and be much more detailed (and show pictures of the brands and things I’m using). I am also considering writing an eBook for free download to people suffering so they can get the main points in an easy-to-read format, but that is just in the “idea phase.”
Well, I hope your hives are improving. If not, don’t lose hope. I was a mess a couple of years ago and I feared my entire life was over. Nearly everything I did would result in a painful attack all over my body. Now I am happy and I have my life back. I pray that the same happens to you. Be ACTIVE, try things above after talking with a doctor, and don’t give up.
Oh, and I wish you all a Happy Thanksgiving next week!