Heat Hazard: Fun in the Sun Turns Dangerous for College Student

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TOLEDO, Ohio-- A Northern Ohio college student is coping with a medical condition that causes her to have a reaction when she’s exposed to the heat.

20-year-old Caitlin McComish is a former goalie at the University of Toledo who was medically disqualified from the team. She has cholinergic urticaria, a condition that leaves her with dangerous and potentially deadly reactions in the sun.

“Always tingling, palms and in the feet. I get pinpoint hives, chest pain, stomach ache,” said Caitlin.

Itching, swelling and trouble breathing are all brought on when she does anything that causes sweating. Exposure to the heat, humidity and sunlight can be problematic in a short amount of time.

“You feel like you’re outside of your head and it’s a really strange feeling. It’s like you’re outside of a coherent thought; you can’t make sense out of anything,” said Caitlin.

Dr. David Lang is the Allergy and Clinical Immunology Department Chair at the Cleveland Clinic. He is also Caitlin’s treating physician. “You don’t have to run a marathon to get this,” said Dr. Lang. "Even a hot shower could provoke, or walking outside on a hot humid day could provoke a significant flare of this condition.”

Cholinergic urticaria is basically the opposite of cold urticaria. Rocque Trem, from Northeast Ohio, has been previously profiled on FOX 8 News for his struggles with cold urticaria. That condition leaves him with hives and other reactions when he’s exposed to cold air or cold temperatures.

Caitlin, to put it simply, is allergic to the heat. “When I was younger, I was misdiagnosed with food allergies,” said Caitlin. “I would have random, very mild though, one to three times a year reactions, always at the soccer field, so they thought it was exercised induced food anaphylaxis.”

It wound up being more severe. In the past year, Caitlin has had over 50 reactions and went to the emergency room 24 times. Dr. Lang said the symptoms can go away in some people but they’ve actually gotten worse for Caitlin. She’s being treated with high doses of antihistamines and other medications.

“People with this condition have to make changes, lifestyle changes in particular,” said Dr. Lang.

For Caitlin, those changes mean no more running, intense exercise or competitive soccer. She now focuses on cheering for her former teammates at the University of Toledo.

“That team, they’re my family. I couldn’t walk away from them even if I wanted to and luckily they don’t want me to walk away; so, I’m really blessed,” said Caitlin.

She is considering a future as a registered nurse and currently teaches soccer to children.