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QUESTION: I have a boy, 10, who is healthy in every way, but seems to get hives whenever his skin is exposed to coldness. I have watched this for several years and notice that during the winter, after he delivers his newspapers, his skin has hives only where it has been exposed. I am really curious to know if this is an allergic reaction or what, and if medicine will help him. - Mrs. M.Q.

ANSWER: Exposure to cold is a well-known cause of hives. Why some people have this sensitivity can't be explained. There is a simple but not entirely foolproof office procedure to demonstrate the disorder. The examining doctor puts an ice cube on the boy's skin for several minutes. If the patient is cold sensitive, a hive will appear at the application site.I always feel obliged to discourage willy-nilly self-prescribing, and often, simply keeping the vulnerable skin areas covered will serve to reduce hives episodes. Yet, taking antihistamine before exposure can help. Cyproheptadine (Periactin) is one that works well for cold urticaria, the technical name for the problem.

I want to sound one serious note here: Your son should not jump into cold water. People with cold urticaria can get serious reactions when their bodies are suddenly exposed to such massive coldness. The blood pressure may drop and they can pass out. I am not saying this would happen to your son, but you don't want to tempt fate.

Although the lad seems healthy, you should have the doctor check this out. Some rare illnesses can be linked to cold urticaria.

1992 North America Syndicate Inc.