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Woman’s rare allergy left her feeling like a live ‘science experiment’

Tammy Rose Bringloe wants to raise awareness of cold urticaria (Collect/PA Real Life)
Tammy Rose Bringloe wants to raise awareness of cold urticaria (Collect/PA Real Life)

A carer with a rare cold allergy who was once told she looked like a “monster” due to her skin’s red and blotchy reaction to low temperatures wants to raise awareness of the condition to prevent others from being bullied.

Tammy Rose Bringloe, 34, who lives in Birmingham, said she has an “allergy to the cold”, and people have made fun of her condition throughout her life, saying she must be “lying” or “joking”.

Tammy said the condition, known as cold urticaria, affects her on an almost day-to-day basis, as “anything colder than (her) body temperature” produces an allergic reaction of varying severity and length.

She said her skin will usually break out in hives, go “red and blotchy”, and then she will experience swelling, itchiness, an intense burning sensation, and sometimes nausea.

On a few occasions, Tammy said she has even fainted due to a reaction, but she wants to increase awareness of the condition so that it is taken more seriously and is more widely recognised.

“Raising awareness is something that needs to happen because no one knows about it,” she said.

People are taking the mick and they’re getting bullied for it, and I’m really against that because I had that myself and it can affect your mental health.

“If I can help someone else, instead of people taking the mick, and (help others) be more understanding – you don’t know the difference it makes on that individual.”

Tammy, who is a care and support worker, said she believes she was born with cold urticaria – a chronic, reactive skin disorder which occurs after exposure of the skin to cold temperatures.

She said her mother and brother have the same condition, but she was not officially diagnosed until her mid-20s and she does not have an EpiPen, which is used for self-administration of adrenaline for the emergency treatment of severe allergic reactions.

Wearing layers of clothing to keep warm is one preventative measure, and she takes “the strongest antihistamines you can be prescribed”, but she said her reactions are difficult to predict and manage, especially during the winter months.

“It took me a long time to get a name for it,” Tammy explained.

“Mum just called it our allergy, or our allergy to the cold, or said ‘you’re having an allergy attack’ – that was the term that she always used.

“So they were the terms that I always used, and people would be looking at me, thinking, ‘what on earth are you talking about?’.

“People always thought I was joking, because you say ‘I’ve got an allergy to the cold’… and then it wasn’t until I started fainting with it that people thought ‘she isn’t lying about it’.”

Tammy referred to herself as a “science experiment” and said others used to call her “a personal thermometer” or “the weather girl” as her skin would “tell you how cold it was”.

During a typical reaction, her hands and face would swell up, her skin would go bright red, and her body would be “severely itchy” – sometimes, she said, it was “like her skin (was) on fire”.

She remembers fainting for the first time after she had gone swimming with a friend when she was approximately 11 years old, which was “scary” as she thought “her body was shutting down”.

And Tammy struggled during her time at school, as people would call her names and say she was just “pretending” to have an allergy.

“When it got really bad, my whole face would swell that much that my eyes started closing in,” she said.

“People are disgusted to look at you and (they would say) ‘you’re a monster’, and I think I ended up just joking about it myself, saying, ‘I’m a tomato on legs’.

“My hands were a big thing, and people would go, ‘what’s wrong with your hands?’, or people used to think, in the summer, because you don’t expect to get it in the summer, that I was sunburnt.

“People never believed me, saying ‘why are you pretending?’, so trying to get people to listen (was really difficult) and it did affect my confidence a lot.”

Tammy explained that the bullying and name-calling at school, and the lack of understanding, had a profoundly negative affect – particularly because she felt no one was listening to her.

She said people accused her of “trying to get out of PE at school” and they would “laugh” at her when she tried to explain her condition.

“It used to be awful when I was a kid and teenager; people are judgmental, everyone’s obsessed with their looks,” she said.

“Especially, when I was a teen, everything was about looking good all the time. The magazines were different back then to what they are now.

“Now with the media… people are more aware and are less judgmental and more accepting, but I didn’t have that, so it was really difficult.

“It took over (my life) a bit, and, trying to get people to understand it, because it is a bit of a strange allergy, was hard.”

Now, Tammy believes that, with the rise of social media and more open dialogue, she can help to raise awareness of the condition.

She used to believe her condition was ugly, but now she wants to bare it to the world and hopefully prevent others with cold urticaria from being subjected to abuse or misunderstood.

“People are so focused on image and looking good, and I think, from what I had (experienced), people can be so judgmental of other people,” Tammy said.

“But for these people going through these things, their mental health is affected by these comments and people not being aware.

“Sometimes people might say comments without actually meaning to be horrible, they’re almost oblivious… but I think awareness of anything is a good thing – it makes people reflect more on themselves, (and) it makes people hopefully less judgmental.”