Real Life

Young Kiwi’s dangerous allergy: ‘The cold could kill me’

A rare allergy to a drop in the temperature has changed nine-year-old Lhasa Sharp’s life.
cold urticaria, allergy, allergies, allergic reaction

While New Zealanders have been gritting their teeth through the chilly winter, spare a thought for Northland nine-year-old Lhasa Sharp, who could die from being exposed to the cold. Lhasa has developed a rare and dangerous allergy to the cold, breaking out in red welts whenever there’s a sudden drop in temperature. Lhasa’s allergy, known as cold urticaria, has become so severe that it’s considered life-threatening. Colder temperatures can cause a sharp drop in Lhasa’s blood pressure and make her heart to beat too rapidly.

Her parents, Danah (38) and Steve (42), saw the first signs of their daughter’s allergy when the Kamo family visited their Matapouri beach house last year. Lhasa emerged from the water with welts on her body and a nurse, also holidaying there, thought she may have been stung by jellyfish. “It looked like tentacles had wrapped around her arms and legs – they were huge welts,” Danah recalls.

Later, when Lhasa reacted to rain at a kids’ party, Danah knew something was seriously wrong. “Lhasa got a drip of rain through the jersey she was wearing. Her arm was itchy and there was a huge welt where the rain got through,” Danah recalls. But after swimming in the school pool, her parents suspected the cold water was to blame for her allergy. “We got a call from the school to say she was covered in big red welts. It really confirmed our suspicions,” Danah says.

Lhasa was referred to an allergy specialist and also had to visit Starship Children’s Hospital in Auckland, but Danah says they were told there is no cure for her condition. Lhasa has to carry an EpiPen (epinephrine auto-injectors) to deliver adrenaline if she has a severe reaction. Thankfully, she hasn’t had to use it yet. Her parents, who also have a teenage son AJ (15), now carry an emergency blanket with the family everywhere they go.

While her parents prefer not to dwell on how serious the allergy is, there is a risk it could kill their daughter. “It’s a low risk, but if Lhasa was to go out fishing in a boat and fell overboard, it could be all over,” says Danah. “It’s the risk of drowning from going into anaphylactic shock because a rapid drop in blood pressure can cause her to pass out.”

Unfortunately, Lhasa’s allergy seems to be getting worse. It’s now it’s necessary for her to wear a blanket and mittens when walking past the cool section at the supermarket – and she can’t eat ice cream or go swimming anymore. “A lot of people struggle to understand when you say your daughter is allergic to the cold, but if you say they’re allergic to peanuts, they’ll be sure to keep them away,” says Danah.

There is hope that Lhasa will grow out of the condition. “Starship staff told us about a study of 30 kids with cold urticaria. Most of them grew out of it between two and 15 years after diagnosis,” says Steve. The family has been in contact with people in their forties who still have the allergy. The rarity of the disease is the main reason they want Lhasa’s story published in the *Weekly.

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“She thinks she’s the only person in the world with this condition,” Danah sighs. “She can’t go swimming, or have ice cream or water balloon fights. She was a little mermaid before. “She says, ‘This is my one life and I can’t do the things I want.’ It’s heartbreaking to hear that.”

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