Meet Gemma, the Milton Keynes teenager with a potentially deadly allergy to the WEATHER

Going out in the cold could prove fatal, while too much heat causes her to be in agony

Tuesday, 26th October 2021, 11:36 am
Updated Tuesday, 26th October 2021, 11:38 am

A teenager has spoken out about her potentially fatal allergy to cold weather and begged people to be understanding.

Gemma Walsh, 19, suffers from severe cold urticaria, a rare condition that causes her body to go into anaphylactic shock when the temperature drops.

And even opening the fridge, drinking a cold drink or walking past a chiller counter in the supermarket can set it off, causing her to faint and struggle to breathe.

Gemma

To make matters even worse, Gemma is also allergic to heat and UV light. These cause her body to erupt in painful blisters and welts that take days to heal.

As a result, she spends most of her days stuck inside her temperature-regulated Coffee Hall home, dressed in warm clothing and feeling trapped and utterly miserable.

"I am trapped inside for most of the winter and a lot of the summer, just waiting for a day to be the temperature and conditions so I can go outside. When it happens it's amazing. I love it. Ironically I used to be a real outdoor person," said Gemma, who was diagnosed with the cold urticaria when she was just eight and fainted after coming out of the sea.

The condition has got worse over the years, forcing her to miss much of her final years of schooling, abandon her job, her ambition to study equine therapy and college and her hobbies for photography, fishing and fast cars.

Heat reaction: Gemma's arm after being exposed to sunlight

Then, three years ago, the heat allergy, suddenly struck. Officially known as polymorphic light eruption, it means that even sitting indoors near a sunny window can cause Gemma's skin to erupt.

The only way to stop it is to cover herself from head to toe in clothing - including a balaclava. Even exposing her skin while walking from her house to a car can cause a reaction and the result is days of agony.

But even more painful, says Gemma, is when people assume she is lazy because she is able to do so little.

"It really hurts me when people assume I'm too lazy to work and I just want to sit around the house and do nothing all day. The reason I want my story to be told is to raise awareness so people can understand what it's like to live like this.

Gemma

"Sometimes, when I say I'm allergic to the cold and heat, people laugh and think I'm lying. All I want is for them to understand," she said.

When the Covid pandemic struck, Gemma was barely affected. Her life, she says, is a permanent lockdown - but without the allowance of going outside for fresh air or exercise.

"Some mornings I wake up and burst into tears because I can't see the point of another day," she said. "Everything I try to do is difficult. Having a bath is so exhausting, due to the change in temperatures, that I sleep for hours afterwards. Even cooking and chopping cold meat from the fridge can send me into shock. Every little task seems to be a problem."

One ray of sunshine is Gemma's boyfriend of three years, Cameron Cartwright, who is totally understanding of her condition, she says.

Gemma with her boyfriend Cameron

"Cameron is amazing. He looks after me and cares for me. I don't know what I'd do without him."

There is no cure for Gemma's allergies and she has searched in vain for support groups or charities that can help her. Living off benefits. she dreams of being one day able to afford a special temperature regulated suit that would allow her to lead a normal life.

Meanwhile she is due to start treatment with a new drug, which has to be injected daily. But she admits she has little hope it will work.

"Because it's so rare, not much is known about it. There's no big charity raising money for research so there's not really much hope of a cure," she said.

"That's why I want to raise awareness. Maybe one day there will be a treatment that will work and I will be able to live a normal life... That would be my dream," she said,