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.