MN Boy Suffers From Unusual Skin Allergy To The Cold

JACKSON, Minn. (WCCO) — One family in southwestern Minnesota is grateful the first big snow fall didn’t arrive until Monday. It’s because their 12-year old son is allergic to cold weather.

Grant Schlager constantly needs to bundle up, be careful with cold drinks and pace himself with summer swimming. Schlager is from the small southern Minnesota town of Jackson.

While you may have never heard of such an allergy, doctors say it’s more common than you’d think.

Schlager seems about as normal as 12-year-olds come. He picked his football jersey number to match his birthday, his younger brother is his best friend and his hat sports a popular video game character. Grant, however, lives with a condition that has kids on the playground talking.

“They didn’t know anyone else who did except for me,” Schlager said.

While Jerry and Amy Schlager are no stranger to parenting with five kids, they said they could’ve never predicted what happened a little more than a year ago.  It was after swimming in the backyard, they saw the first sign of a problem.

“He said, ‘Look at my legs,’and it was like, ‘Oh my gosh!’  I said, ‘What is that?’  It looked like someone had thrown acid on him!” Jerry Schlager said.

It wasn’t until winter came that Grant had his second episode.

“When he took his snow suit off, he had big welts.  I wouldn’t even say they were hives, they were welts,” Amy Schlager said.

A couple doctors later, the Schlager’s ended up in Dr. Martha Hartz’s office.  Hartz is a pediatric allergist at the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Hartz diagnosed Grant with a medical condition called “cold urticaria.”

“I looked at my parents, and I’m like, ‘What?’ and they kind of looked at the doctor and they’re like, ‘Really?’,” Grant Schlager said.

The Schlagers had never heard of such a thing, but they said it didn’t take long to know it was a condition they needed to move on.

“You can have a severe enough reaction where it’s life threatening,” Dr. Martha Hartz said.

The worst reactions, as you might guess, come from swimming pools.

“He can have this release of histamines, where you get a full body reaction where you go into shock, lose consciousness and then, if you’re in the water, you drown,” Jerry Schlager said.

Many people with cold urticaria go undiagnosed, and that’s when drowning becomes the biggest risk.

“Dr. Hartz said sometimes you’ll hear of a drowning victim, and people will say ‘I don’t understand it, they were great swimmers and they just went down,’” Amy Schlager said.

Grant is allowed to swim, presuming he slowly acclimates to the cold temperature.  In addition to monitoring swimming, drinking cold beverages, even cool air conditioning can also bring on a reaction. This is precisely why the Schlagers have decided not to move to a warmer climate.

When Grant does go outside, he bundles up, and stays out for 15 minutes at a time before his parents check his skin.

“If I have bumps, they’ll say, ‘Um, why don’t you stay in here, warm up a bit?’” Grant Schlager said.

Grant also must carry his epy pen in case of an emergency.

“It’s a little unnerving to send him away from us, whether it’s to a friend’s house, whatever,” Jerry Schlager said.

For the Schlagers, one of the biggest challenges has been dealing with what’s often been skeptical reactions.

Research shows one in 2,000 people suffer from cold urticarial.

“So it’s not quite as uncommon as people think it is,” Dr. Martha Hartz said.

Dr. Hartz said while they don’t know why certain people have the allergy, they’re learning urticarial sometimes runs in families.

Since Grant’s story was recently published in the “Mayo Clinic’s Magazine,” several parents have reached out to the Schlagers.

“They found me, called us up, and just was relieved, I mean very relieved sounding saying, I heard about this, my Mom read about it, and my daughter has this,” Amy Schlager said.

While most people don’t think to ask, “Am I allergic to the cold?,” the Schlagers said they share their story with hopers that a seemingly silly question could save a life.

The allergy usually doesn’t develop until young adulthood.  It’s less common in kids like Grant, but they can outgrow it. Your children could be more at risk if you have a family history of allergies and asthma.

  • Ron

    I’ve suffer from this for over 50 years. Everyone thinks it’s a joke. I can only swim in a heated pool. Sprain an ankle? Can’t put ice on it!

    • Dijana

      Joker U sound like a tiebtr Kalia/porscha/Dani fan (why r u so tiebtr) ..U need to go hide behind a bush(lol) .

  • Beth

    I take Allegra every day and Prednisone when /i know I will be out in the cold for extended lengths of time or go swimming. I’ve had it for 6 years now…. Cold car seats are the worst!

  • kevin the pompous

    What a crock, you are a bunch of whiners…all this is is a fluff article with no basis in fact. Simply another Dr diagnosing and then a new drug will come out and the pharm co. and the Doc will be rich….trite, how trite

    • angie

      Please read my comment below-cold urticaria is real and alters life styles for real! My daughter is focusing on what is important in her life and manages but do to cold urticaria she was unable to be a collegiate athlete and more; we are hoping she will outgrow this condition.
      Thank you,

    • Willow

      At least you admit to being a troll with your name…

    • Sarah P

      Kevin, Kevin Kevin, Kevin Kevin Kevin

    • ahab

      Well, I guess the ‘pompous’ part of your name fits. What a know-it-all you are. There’s a lot out there you don’t know about, but just because you are not aware of this condition doesn’t mean you have to claim it’s not real. Kevin, grow up!

  • Jay

    Ive had it since I was a teen also, but outgrew getting the hives, but still have reactions to hot/cold. As an adult,I cant take the cold temps,nor temperatures over 80 degrees. I have an electric blanket, and heated mattress pad on my bed set on high, and also have a heavy comforter on top of that to stay warm in winter, and some nights in the summer. I wear extra clothing in the house as Im freezing if the temps drop below 68. Wearing shorts in the summer is out. On days the temps go above 80 I get sick,nauseated and a horrendous headache. They fall below 70, and it feels like -20 degrees..Its like winter all year round being trapped indoors. My car sits in a heated garage, and has a remote start so its warm when I get in it If it has to sit out while I do shopping. Its not a fun allergy.

  • Lynn

    Thank you for the article. My daughter, now 19 years old, was diagnosed when she was approximatly 10. Over the years she has leaned how to handle it. Still the hardest part has been the skeptical reactions from others, from her elementary teachers to her friends. She has taken what she has learned over the years and presented the information in science reports and in Informative Speech. Education of others is just as important in helping these young people adjust to their new diagnosis. Thanks again.

  • Alden

    I think I must be allergic to getting up early in the morning then.

  • Loves MN cold weather

    I have suffered from this for the last 26 years. It is very painful for me when I break out. My husband likes to go snowmobiling, which when I can go – it has to be at least 30 degrees and I bundle up like it’s -40. I am glad this story came out as well. My daughter, I see, is coming up with some of the same symptoms, which I was hoping she would get. I have learned how to live with it and cope with it so I guess I am going to have to pass that on to my daughter.

    Kevin the pompous, If you would have actually watched the segment – you would know that it is an allergy and not a condition and that there isn’t going to be a cure for it. Listen better next time….

    • Loves MN cold weather

      I want to clarify – I didn’t want my daughter to get it….

  • Ellen

    When I was in my early teens I had my first episode of hives from the cold!
    I would get them around my knees especially. The problem plagued me
    into adulthood. Over time the problem subsided, and quit totally when I
    was in my 30’s. However, my daughter STARTED having the problem
    in adulthood. Now in her 40’s, she still takes precautions. Luckily neither
    of our situations were as severe as those in the article.

  • Rube

    Maybe it’s just me but it seems most every story from WCCO and other “news” outlets, the subject of the story is somehow a victim of something or has some disability they overcame… maybe they should stick to “News” and less on the puff pieces.

  • Occupy Member

    I’m allergic to Hard Work

  • Denise

    My 10 year old son was diagnosed with this cold induced allergy 2 1/2 years ago. He couldn’t go outside if the temperature was 28 degrees or colder. If he did he would have a hard time breathing and hives on any part of the skin that wasn’t covered. Luckily this year the temps are warmer and he has been able to play outside most of the winter.

  • Exp

    As a person with my own medical problems I have sympathy for those afflicted, but I do have to wonder why they stay in a cold climate if cold is causing them pain. It seems counter-intuitive. With my disease, Crohn’s, if you eat something that causes you problems, you don’t eat it again until you feel better, if ever. Living in an environment that is guaranteed to cause you pain seems… somewhat masochistic. They must really love Minnesota to put up with it.

  • amy

    My son was diagnosed with this two years ago at age 8. It’s not a joke when you see him break out into awful hives and itch all over every time he swims or it rains. He’s been to the nurse several times during recess. Thank you for airing this last night.

    • Lori

      I have this condition and I am now watching my 7 yr old to see if he will develop it. Have you found any allergy meds that work for him?

  • Jen

    it’snot a joke when you are holding your lifeless three year old in your arms after watching him turn instantly pale and puking every where and having to catch him before he falls to the ground, and then rushing him to the hospital and not having a clue. Grow up people, just because you have never heard of it does not mean that it doesn’t exist. I had never heard of it either. But if you don’t believe me than you are certainly welcome to witness my small child break out into hives when it is 60 degrees out but the wind is just a bit to cold. It’s funny, til it’s your kid…. then it can be life or death. I’m glad that this aired… my boy is six now, and thanks to a small town and great family, he has people looking out for him every where.

  • Eldra

    My dad was diagnosed with cold urticaria back in 2005. Similar to Grant, his first reaction was breaking out in hives after swimming in a lake. We were living in Alberta at the time — definitely not a good climate for someone with an allergy to cold. His case was extremely severe; if he ran his hands under cold water, they would stay swollen for upwards of sixteen hours at a time; breathing in cold air caused his throat to swell up. He could barely go outside in the winter, and regular winter outdoor activities, everything from sledding to snowball fights, ceased entirely. If he were to fall into cold water, he would have died in less than four minutes.

    After several years, his allergy became so severe we had to move to a more temperate climate. Not long after that, we learned about the Healing Rooms Ministries. In less than a month, he was completely healed of the allergy, and it’s never resurfaced. In fact, he recently become a snowboarder.

    To those of you who have or know someone with cold urticaria, or any other disease: there is hope. The Healing Rooms Ministries were the conduit through which my dad’s life was saved, or at the very least given back to him. You don’t have to live with these ailments — my dad is proof of that.

  • McKenna

    My name is McKenna. I am 14. I have live with this since 4 grade. It is hurtful when people don’t believe you when you have this serious condition. That this can possibly kill you.

    • Loves MN cold weather

      Hang in there McKenna…I was laughed at by my teachers when I was a kid when I started suffering from it. The only people that I could count on not laughing at me were my parents. Everyone thought that I was faking about the pain. I am now 36 and still suffer from it and I still get the looks and snickers from people. My husband didn’t even believe me until one night I broke out and I was crying because of the pain. Now that this story has aired – I hope that the laughs and snickers will quit.


    My sympathy to those who are afflicted with this condition. I live in the south and have lived in northern states, ND & MN. A “warmer climate” and “air conditioning” temperatures are not defined in this article.

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  • Lori

    I am 34 and have had this since I was a teenager. My hands would swell up so much I could hardly bend them every morning in junior high. It has gone into remission and come back again now in my 30’s. I get hives on my hands every morning and sometimes on my legs. I’m taking Allegra for it and it works really well. I am shocked to see so many people effected by this allergy..I have literally been waiting to hear of another person with it my whole life! I haven’t talked much about it because it does sound so unbelievable. All of the negative and ignorant comments on here make me a little sick..this has been horrible to live with. For those of you wondering why I/we don’t move to a warmer climate..all my family and friends live here. Air conditioning is just as bad as it being cold outside. Swimming in a cool pool you still get hives. Thank you WCCO for airing this..I don’t feel so isolated now! Does anyone know of an effective medicene for children? I’m on the lookout for my own kids now.

  • Rufus Larkin

    But they’re too poor to move …

    • LL

      It’s not a matter of them being too poor. I happen to live in the same neighborhood as this family, and they are a very typical middle class family. Like they said in the article, Grant has to be careful with air conditioning, cold drinks, and pools. How would moving to the South help?

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  • Angel Lyons

    My 10 year old son Matt, has had this condition since he was 4 years old. He can’t have and ice pack if he injures himself, just a cool cloth. We live in the Fingerlakes region and he can’t swim in the lakes. The diagnosis is made by doing “The Ice Cube Challenge”, with the allergist/immunologist there to monitior closely. The place an ice cube on the sking and see how long someone can go in tntervals before hives and swelling forms. An average person should be able to withstand 15 to 20 minutes. Matt has even had his skin sluff off after a nasty reaction one day when he was in our pool for less than 1 minute. We now have a pool heater to ensure his safety. His condition is worse now. Winter is his favorite for playing outside because he is safe from the bees that he is allergic to, but he can’t play for too long without a nasty reaction.

  • Angie

    My daughter, Chele (age 20) was an advid athlete-her sx’s began in 9th grade during sports with reactive airway. All the advair and albuterol in the world did’nt help her. the bronchospasm’s and sinus infections continued through the summer (swimteam season). Practices were great but during meets she would develop the bronchospasm’s-sometimes turning purple and just getting worse each episode. her sr. year in high school would develop hives-no ice for her sprains! MD’s would ask her if she was suicidal/depressed-they couldn’t diagnose her 10th grade allergy testing showed she was mildly allergic to everything (I thought this was good-ie no severe allergies) no treatment indicated to relieve her symptons. My daughter gave up swimming but continued to play field sports and became a division 1 lacrosse player at Towson University. At this point My daughter (Chele) and myself self diagnosed her with cold urticaria. She became worse-on singulair, loratidine, on & off prednisone and frequent antibitics for the sinus infections. One episode of hives was so bad and witnessed by her teamate and room-mate, she ended up in ER from ice applied to a sprained knee for 20 min. by a trainer who said just try the ice despite the cold urticaria. The disease continued to worsen and Chele became very inflammed everywhere-the sprains were numerous in addition to the bronchospasms and hives. Coaches , teammates and doctors lost all faith in her and our family including Chele cried a lot. Chele became team manager for Towson lacrosse and developed the same (hives, pain and bronchospasm’s) standing on the sidelines, she continued in the training room to try to become stronger.Chele became more depressed but is able to acheive academically, she transferred to Utah and is pursuing studies in Vetinary science, plays club lacrosse and snowboards. She suffers pain daily but seems to manage better in constant temperatures as oppossed to freq. climate changes and I urge her to stay active, take the loratidine and singulair daily and she definitely limits her time outside ie slowly warms before hives sett-in but uses preventative measures such as layering and drinks plenty of water.Oh, I forgot the benadryl which she carries all the time, but you really can’t live on benadryl and be a fulltime collegiate athlete! (She was randomly drug tested as a freshman for the NCAA and we laughed due to all the drugs in her system but all legal and prescribed!)
    I know this comment is long but sooo true, for all the cold urticaria suffer’s it is a real disease and you are not crazy.
    As a mom the only thing I have been unsucessful with is telling all the doctors and coaches that they are the crazy ones! Also Chele refuses to modify her diet and I think what she eats is the route to all her inflammation which is causing all the cold urticaria.
    Please comment to me directly if you want to hear more.

  • Donna Fornwalt

    I am 44years old and I have cold and physical urticaria. I get hives from just about everything. I had them internal as well as external. ( in my ears, nose, stomach etc..) I used a homeopathic remedy called Apis. It got rid of all internal hives and the other 15 symptoms I had . I was really sick. I still have cold and physcial urticaria but it is now managable. I am still searching for a homeopathic (natural) cure for this.

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