My mom took me to the the dermatologist, who had no idea what could be causing the hives. She just suggested that I probably was allergic to grass, and said there wasn't much to worry about.
So we didn't, and the reactions continued. Another winter saw the mysterious hives come and go, and by summertime I'd been in enough pools (#suburblife) with my peers for them to notice my skin's funny reaction upon exiting the cold water.
When my "friend" Haley held a pool party, I wasn't invited. Her reasoning: "You look disgusting when you get out of the water and nobody wants to get, like, herpes or whatever you have." That stung. For starters, it wasn't herpes -- being 12 is already awkward enough, so you can imagine having to deal with a rumor that you had some bizarre full-body form of herpes. Twelve-year-olds don't have the best handle on infectious disease, or generally treating people with humanity.
The reactions get worse
Though I'd previously broken out while swimming in chilly waters or being cold, by the time I was 14 I began to experience them when doing other activities that elicited sweating, like exercising. My parents decided it was time to get to the bottom of these reactions.
Five doctors later and an eventual meeting with an allergist, we had an answer. I was given the ice cube test, in which the allergist held an ice cube to my hand for five minutes. High-tech, I know. Sure enough, hives appeared, and the allergist informed me that I had conditions called cold urticaria and physical urticaria. Put simply, I was allergic to the cold and working out.
How the hell does this happen?
It had never occurred to me that you could be allergic to something as abstract as "the cold." What's going on in my body when all of this is happening?
Well, according to Dr. Smruti Parikh, an allergist and immunologist at Summit Medical Group in New Jersey, cold temperatures and exercise can cause the activation of mast cells, which leads to the release of histamines and inflammation, hence the appearance of weals -- aka hives, aka urticaria. In other words, my body perceives the cold or sweat exposure as a foreign invader and attacks the healthy tissue that's exposed.
There are even some rare instances of people with sun urticaria (an allergic reaction to the sun), aquagenic urticaria (a reaction to water, regardless of temperature), or even vibratory urticaria (an allergic reaction to vibrations, think clapping hands, mowing the lawn, or vibrators, presumably).