Kathryn Ferguson has spent most of this winter inside her Silver Spring home. That's because just opening her front door could trigger a severe allergic reaction. Even touching a cold soda, turning on the faucet, and eating ice cream are all health hazards.
Going grocery shopping? It’s absolutely out of the question.
“I'd have a severe attack in a grocery store because I was holding a gallon of milk,” said Ferguson. “My arm was swollen and blistering.”
Ferguson suffers from cold induced urticaria. Within seconds of being exposed to pretty much anything below 70 degrees, her allergy cells are irritated and her body begins to shut down - beginning with a skin reaction.
“It will hive and if it's a larger area I'll cough, wheeze, my throat will close,” explained Ferguson. “I can get dizzy and short of breath.”
Surprisingly, her condition is even worse in the summer because of air conditioning.
Ferguson's case is extreme, but allergy doctor Henry Fishman says this rare autoimmune disorder can strike at any time. It impacts about one in 2,000 people in the world.
“One form is genetic. It runs in families,” explained Dr. Fishman. “The other is random. It can develop later on in life. If it's really serious you can go into shock and die.”
Ferguson's disease developed shortly after giving birth to her daughter seven years ago. Now she keeps her EpiPen and identity bracelet with her at all times. And she is constantly monitoring the temperature.
Despite her daily struggles, Ferguson has found other ways to make the most out of life
“I'm going to enjoy every day I have and delight in moments with my family,” said Ferguson. “We bake, we paint we do other things inside that maybe other people don't do.”
So far there's no cure for Ferguson's disease, but she's working with the NIH and Johns Hopkins in finding a treatment that will lengthen the amount of time she's able to be exposed to the cold.