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Video: Winter’s chill is dangerous for this little girl

  1. Transcript of: Winter’s chill is dangerous for this little girl

    MATT LAUER, co-host: We are back now at 8:37 with TODAY'S HEALTH . Imagine not being able to play in the snow, eat an ice cream cone or jump into a cool swimming pool . Well, nine-year-old Priscilla Pomerantz can't enjoy those pleasures because she is literally allergic to cold. We'll talk to her in a moment, but first here's NBC 's Mara Schiavocampo .

    MARA SCHIAVOCAMPO reporting: For nine-year-old Priscilla Pomerantz , winter's chill is downright dangerous.

    Ms. PRISCILLA POMERANTZ: I have to check the weather a lot. I have to always bundle up.

    SCHIAVOCAMPO: The fourth grader from upstate New York must stay warm to stay healthy. That's because she suffers from a rare condition called cold urticaria . Simply put, Priscilla is allergic to cold.

    Ms. COLLEEN LYNCH (Mother of Nine-year-old Girl Allergic to the Cold): She has swelling of her ankles with joint pain. She gets nauseous with it and she's fatigued and lethargic.

    SCHIAVOCAMPO: Almost two years ago, Priscilla started breaking out in hives after swimming. Her mother thought she might be allergic to sunscreen. But weeks later, using an ice cube as a tester, doctors determined the culprit was cold.

    Ms. POMERANTZ: I was really disappointed, but I didn't cry. Inside I felt horrible.

    SCHIAVOCAMPO: Too much exposure to low temperatures and Priscilla could break out into hives or even go into anaphylactic shock, shutting down her airways.

    Mr. CRAIG POMERANTZ (Father of Nine-Year-Old Girl Allergic to the Cold): I do worry about it. It's something we worry about every day.

    SCHIAVOCAMPO: Now Priscilla has to make sure she doesn't go anywhere with temperatures below 70 degrees.

    Ms. POMERANTZ: Usually we keep it higher for the winter to keep me safe.

    SCHIAVOCAMPO: It's not just room temperature. Priscilla has to keep everything around her warm, from what she eats and drinks to bathwater to the clothes she puts on after showering. And she has to give up some of the things kids love most, like ice cream and swimming. Priscilla takes antihistamines twice a day and carries an EpiPen everywhere. So this is kind of your emergency kit?

    Ms. POMERANTZ: Yes.

    SCHIAVOCAMPO: For now Priscilla 's getting used to living with the condition and even manages to see a silver lining.

    Ms. POMERANTZ: Like in the wintertime, some of it's good because I don't have to walk the dog, I don't have to shovel snow.

    SCHIAVOCAMPO: A little girl warmed by a positive outlook in the face of a cold world . For TODAY, Mara Schiavocampo, NBC News, New York .

    LAUER: Priscilla is here with her parents, Colleen Lynch and Craig Pomerantz , and her sister Paige and NBC 's chief medical editor, Dr. Nancy Snyderman , joins us as well. Good morning to all of you.

    Dr. NANCY SNYDERMAN reporting: Hey, Matt.

    Ms. LYNCH: Good morning.

    LAUER: You figured it out, right? You decided to put the best spin on this. No walking the dog, no shoveling the snow. Way to go. How are you?

    Ms. POMERANTZ: Good.

    LAUER: Yeah? The serious side is this is a little tough, isn't it?

    Ms. POMERANTZ: Mm-hmm.

    LAUER: Yeah, you've had to adapt to a lot. How's it going?


    LAUER: Yeah? Still a lot to get used to?

    Ms. POMERANTZ: Right.

    LAUER: I want people to know what it's like for you to go out on a day like this, for example. It's about 38, 39 degrees here in New York . And before you -- I ask you to tell me what it feels like, can we just make sure people know we did not endanger her in any way bringing her here, correct?

    Ms. LYNCH: No, not at all.

    Mr. POMERANTZ: Not at all.

    LAUER: Right. So she can go out if she's bundled up and she's OK, even though it's chilly in the studio. You feel OK now?

    Ms. POMERANTZ: Right.

    Ms. LYNCH: I think she actually got a little hot, but you overcompensated you did such a great job.

    Ms. POMERANTZ: Yeah.

    LAUER: We put the heat up too much in here. What does it feel like if you do go out and you forget a sweater or you don't have the proper coat, what immediately does it feel like?

    Ms. POMERANTZ: Well, it usually doesn't happen, but it feels cold on a day like this. But if it was a day like this it doesn't feel as cold as a day like in the 20s.

    LAUER: In the 20s, you get itchy then immediately and you would start to see the hives pretty quickly?

    Ms. POMERANTZ: Mm-hmm.

    Ms. LYNCH: Yeah, within a few minutes. But that's a hard question because we're so aware of it we never put her in that situation. She's never unprepared in cold weather .

    LAUER: Well, then that brings up the next question. How hard has it been as a family to adapt to this condition?

    Ms. LYNCH: I think we're doing great.

    Mr. POMERANTZ: We are doing great.

    Ms. LYNCH: Right? We have lots of layers and...

    Ms. POMERANTZ: Layers.

    Ms. LYNCH: ...we're always prepared. I think actually the question should go back to Priscilla of the adjustment that she's had to make. I think that some things that are difficult for her are obviously swimming.

    LAUER: Yeah.

    Ms. LYNCH: That's one of the extreme situations that could be potentially very dangerous. So we choose avoidance. And I think that's been difficult.

    LAUER: And I know if my kids were watching right now they're probably saying, 'You don't get to eat ice cream ?' That's a disaster for my kids.

    Ms. POMERANTZ: It is.

    SNYDERMAN: You know, Matt , it's interesting because a lot of times people look at parents and think, 'oh these must be cuckoo parents, overprotective, they've made it up or it's winter, your skin must just be dry.' And they don't understand it's real medical validity to this. I mean, this is a well-recognized medical problem.

    LAUER: And Priscilla 's case it's triggered by cold...

    SNYDERMAN: Right.

    LAUER: ...but it can be triggered -- the hives can be triggered in other people, you can have an allergic reaction to a lot of things.

    SNYDERMAN: Exactly.

    Ms. LYNCH: And...

    SNYDERMAN: I mean, urticaria just means hives and itching. So whether it's a seafood allergy or nylon...

    Ms. LYNCH: Right.

    SNYDERMAN: ...or cold it's variations on a theme . This is just one that's not as well-known.

    Ms. LYNCH: I actually prefer this to a nut allergy , let's say. I feel that cold urticaria is much more manageable than if she did have a nut allergy .

    LAUER: Because you -- otherwise you have to figure out everywhere there's nuts in the diet...

    Ms. LYNCH: Right.

    Mr. POMERANTZ: Right.

    LAUER: ...and things like that. You know what crossed my mind, Craig , is you guys live in upstate New York here.

    Ms. LYNCH: Yeah.

    Mr. POMERANTZ: Yes.

    LAUER: OK, and my first reaction is, is this something where you're going to have to relocate your family to someplace like Florida or Arizona or something like that?

    Mr. POMERANTZ: Well, we've discussed that, and it's actually almost worse because everything in Florida is air conditioned . So she'd be more limited there than here. You know, I mean, winters are hard, but it would be worse all year round in Florida .

    LAUER: Yeah.

    Ms. LYNCH: It's -- everything is air conditioned , so publicly she would be limited.

    LAUER: Paige , have you, as a sister, become much more protective of your little sister ?

    PAIGE: Yeah, sometimes.

    LAUER: You have to be.

    SNYDERMAN: Do you walk around in a T-shirt all the time that she's in a sweater?

    PAIGE: Yes.

    Ms. LYNCH: She is the hottest child. And, you know...


    Ms. LYNCH: I don't think that I can tolerate the cold anymore. I'm so used to such a hot environment.

    LAUER: Right.

    Ms. LYNCH: So Paige is running around in shorts and a tank top and I've got her bundled up so it's...

    PAIGE: Which one do you not like?

    Ms. LYNCH: ...we try to find a balance, right, Paige ?

    LAUER: Nancy , do patients often outgrow this?

    SNYDERMAN: They can. I mean, there's some -- there are some numbers of 15 to 25 percent of people suffer from some variation of this, some more severe. There's a possibility because this has sort of struck young that she might outgrow this as a young adult. No guarantees, though. The real question is are there are allergic things going on in the family, and time will tell .

Priscilla Pomerantz
Caters News Agency
Nine-year-old Priscilla Pomerantz suffers from cold urticaria, which means she gets sick, develops itchy hives and could even stop breathing if she gets too cold.
updated 2/8/2011 9:33:02 AM ET 2011-02-08T14:33:02

Nine-year-old Priscilla Pomerantz can't play in the snow, eat ice cream or walk her dog during the winter. She can't get cold at all, because she suffers from an allergy called cold urticaria. For Priscilla, air temperatures below 70 degrees -- or even eating chilly foods -- trigger an allergic reaction of hives, swelling and difficulty breathing. Left untreated, the cold could literally kill her.

"I do worry about it. It's something that we worry about everyday," Craig Pomerantz, her father, told TODAY.

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Priscilla was diagnosed two years ago, after she broke out in hives while swimming. At first her mother thought she must be allergic to sunscreen. But after weeks of testing, doctors determined the problem was cold -- using an ice cube as a tester.

"I didn't cry. But on the inside, I felt horrible," Priscilla said about learning her diagnosis.

Cold urticaria affects 15 to 25 percent of Americans at some point in their lifetime, according to Dr. Nancy Snyderman; children are more likely to have it than adults, but a severe allergic reaction like Priscilla's is rare. No one is sure what causes it, according to the Mayo Clinic. Priscilla takes antihistamines twice a day and carries an EpiPen everywhere. Doctors say she may grow out of the allergy -- or may not, they don't know.

For now, her family just has to wait and see, and be vigilant to keep their daughter warm. For example, her father drives her to school every morning, warming up his car first, because the school bus is too drafty. At school, she sits next to a space heater. Her bath water has to be as hot as she can stand it, and her parents are waiting with heated towels when she's done.

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Sometimes, people think the parents of children with cold allergies are just being overprotective or a little kooky, Snyderman said on TODAY, but the illness is quite real. "This is a well recognized medical problem," Dr. Snyderman said, similar to nut or shellfish allergies. "This is just one that's not as well known."

Related: Unusual allergies triggered by iPods, celery, sun

Priscilla lives with her family in upstate New York, where winter temperatures commonly dip into the teens and below. Why not move to a warmer climate, like Arizona or Florida, TODAY's Matt Lauer asked her parents.

"It's actually almost worse, because everything in Florida is air conditioned," her father replied. Indoor air conditioning triggers Priscilla's allergy, too -- her mother, Colleen Lynch, brings blankets to keep her daughter warm when she wants to go out to the movies.

(Lauer told the audience that Priscilla wasn't put in any danger by appearing on the TODAY show: She's fine outside as long as she's bundled up, and producers made a note to turn the thermostat in the studio up to 72 degrees for her visit.)

Priscilla has had to give up a lot of things she likes, such as ice cream and sledding. But she tries to look on the bright side. "In the wintertime some of it's good," she told TODAY, "because I don't have to walk the dog, and I don't have to shovel snow."

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