Can't stand the cold? Spare a thought for the Derry man who could be killed by a snowflake
Published 03/12/2013 | 12:00
Next time you down an ice-cold beer, go for a swim or enjoy a winter flurry of snow, spare a thought for Bernard Ward.
The Co Londonderry man has developed a severe allergy to the cold – cold urticaria – that is so acute it has the potential to kill him.
Coming into contact with anything cold, or even a sudden drop in temperature, causes his skin to erupt into angry hives and could potentially trigger anaphylactic shock and even death.
He first noticed some skin aggravation while commuting to Belfast in winter 2011.
Then in February 2012 he was diagnosed with the condition after his skin reacted badly while waiting for a bus in Scotland, when temperatures plunged to a bone-chilling -10C.
Bernard now has to wrap up in "a ridiculous amount" of layered clothing, even indoors, and has to don woolly gloves to get food out of the fridge.
The gym is out of the question, as air conditioning could kill him, his heating bills are through the roof, and he can forget about swimming at the beach.
Bernard said he hated the change of the seasons.
"I dread winter coming – I know most people don't like the cold, but it could be deadly for me," he told the Daily Mail.
"It costs me a fortune in heating bills and thick clothes, but I have no other choice.
"Since I developed the allergy, it's totally changed my life."
In 2012 doctors diagnosed him with a severe allergy to the cold.
"Every time I was waiting for the bus my hands began to itch really badly and burn, as if I had put them in a pile of nettles."
At present there is no known cure for cold urticaria, but it can be managed through the use of antihistamines and keeping as warm as possible.
Bernard said: "Initially it got me very down and anxious. I couldn't understand what was happening to me and I kept thinking that it would go away.
"I gradually stopped doing everyday things.
"Having cold drinks made my throat swell and even holding a pint of cold beer on a night out made my hand swell up."
Bernard's loved ones, including his fiancée Mairead, have been a huge support.
"She adapted really well to my condition and gives me support every day.
"It took people a while to realise the extent of it and people do still forget themselves sometimes and ask me to do things which I just can't do any more."
Cold urticaria is an allergy to low temperatures. Exposure to cold causes redness, itching, swelling and hives on the skin.
People with cold urticaria should avoid exposure to cold air and cold water.
Swimming in cold water is the most common cause of a severe, whole-body reaction – leading to fainting, shock and even death.