I thought my boy's hives were just hay fever – but the truth could kill him

I thought my boy's hives were just hay fever – but the truth could kill him


A MUM whose son has an allergy that threatens his life initially thought his breakout of hives were due to hay fever.

Tupney Courtney, 38, fears her son, Calum Courtney, 14, could go into anaphylactic shock just walking to school.

Calum, of Basildon, Essex, was diagnosed with the condition cold urticaria ten years ago, which means he is allergic to the cold.

The teen can't go outside the house for more than 15 minutes without his skin breaking into red and itchy rashes.

The allergy is so bad that Calum breaks out in hives if the temperature is less than 24 degrees – meaning it affects him all year round – or if an arm or leg isn't covered by the duvet while he's sleeping.

Calum’s condition has robbed of him of his childhood, as he is unable to play football, swim in pools or go ice skating.

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Describing the rash, mum-of-two Tupney said: “It starts off like little red dots, it looks like chicken pox then they get bigger and join together. 

“They're so uncomfortable. He said it feels pinchy, prick feeling, like stinging nettles then it gets really itchy.

"If he's in water that's too cold, he goes bright red and says it feels like it's burning. That's a different feeling and he comes over not well, like he's going to pass out.

"I think that's the early stages of anaphylactic shock. You have to really warm him up and try and get him warm form the inside with hot drinks.

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"You don't know what reaction he could have, he could have anaphylactic shock, it's not beyond the realms of possibility even though he hasn't, it could happen at any point."

Calum was diagnosed when he was four after he erupted in hives while playing outside at a family wedding. 

His panicked parents – Tupney and finance manager dad David, 38 –  assumed he had a pollen allergy and gave him some antihistamines.

Tupney said: “They were real big welts all over him.

"We presumed it was the fields and something to do with grass or a specific plant that he'd been around. 

“It kept coming up over the next few months and we weren't sure what it was. It transpired as we went into winter, it started to get terrible. 

"It was happening all the time and we started to realise that if his arm was out of the quilt, that would come up in hives but the rest of him wouldn't so we started to see it was the cold.

"The doctor said it was the cold but we didn't get referred anywhere, there wasn't much knowledge of it.”

Urticaria, also known as hives, affects an estimated one in five people at some point in their lives, according to the NHS. 

Cold urticaria makes up about one to three per cent of all urticaria cases, according to the National Organisation of Rare Disorders, with other triggers including the sun and water. 

Tupney was told to keep managing the condition, but said it was very challenging given kids always like to play outside.

The family have to have the heating whacked up on full all day, every day.

And Tupney has to take Calum to school every day as he wouldn't make the 45-minute journey without having a break out.

Tupney said: "He can't wear T-shirts for school because if he doesn't have anything on his arms, the cold desk makes him come up in hives.

"When it's raining and I take him to the gate, the walk from the car to the gate makes his clothes slightly damp and he can't stay in them and has to get changed.”

Tupney is frustrated that her son has not been given an epi-pen, considering cold urticaria can lead to anaphylaxis.

Anaphylaxis can cause fainting, shock, or swelling of the tongue and throat, which can make it difficult to breathe.

Tupney is desperate for her son to see a specialist in his condition so that he can live a normal life.

Tupney said: "We need help. It's ten years of struggling.

“I wish we could get him a proper antihistamine that meant he could play out without looking like he's got a disease.

"Doctors suggest a lifestyle change to avoid the cold, ok we won't live, we'll stay indoors, not doing anything or going anywhere. You can't change your life and move abroad.”

She added that people often don’t believe Calum’s condition is real, and people ask ‘what’s wrong with your face?’.

Tupney said: “As a teenager, it affects everything, he can't play out or play sports. He had to stop playing football because his whole face swells up.

"He used to really get upset because he really wanted to play football. As a young boy, playing football puts you in the group of kids that everyone wants to talk to.

"He likes to watch his brother play football and we take him tracksuits, hot water bottles, blankets – but he has to go and get in the car because his nose swells up and his eyes get further apart.

“He always gets really hot because we have to wrap his skin up. If he's out long enough, [the rash is] everywhere even with three layers of clothes. “

The family are looking forward to a holiday in Turkey in August but Tupney has had to book a hotel with an indoor, heated swimming pool.

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She said: "We can't go to most hotels because they have cold swimming pools.

“We went to swim with dolphins in Florida and he couldn't stay in the water.

"In another country it's even more scary and you haven't got an epi pen. It's terrifying.”

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