By Josh Saunders
A graduate with a deadly allergy to the cold is speaking out after receiving verbal abuse for wearing a lifesaving mask and compared to a FORTNITE character.
Max Fisher, 23, from Sherwood, Nottingham, suffers such strong reactions that they have been forced to wear a particle filtering Vogmask to avoid breathing difficulties – and even passing out.
They have cold-induced urticaria, which causes hives that range from a pinprick to large welts, passing out and also risking a fatal anaphylactic shock.
Max’s first reaction happened at 14, when an ‘angry red rash’ spread across their legs after sitting on damp grass in shorts while it was windy.
Since then they have had thousands more, caused by anything from their own tears and sweat to cold drinks, ice-cream and Max’s personal ‘nemesis’ air conditioning.
They use an inhaler, antihistamines and the mask to combat symptoms, but even then, they still risk passing out due to breathing difficulties.
Strangers cruelly yell abuse at Max because of the breathing apparatus – even comparing them to characters from the popular online game Fortnite.
Max, who is looking for a job in pharmacology, said: “I have never had an elephant sit on my chest, but that’s how I imagine it feels, it’s very hard to breathe and my chest gets very tight.
“A lot of people think I’m being over the top, because ‘nobody likes the cold’ – they tend to confuse it with being cold.
“But it’s very different, it’s a contact allergy where anything cold that touches my skin causes a reaction.
“People have suggested moving to Australia or putting on a jumper, but a jumper won’t stop cold air coming into my lungs.
“When I wear the Vogmask people just think I’m being edgy, but I just want to live my life.
“People freak out about it, when you walk in with your face covered people assume you are doing something bad but for me, it’s for my health.
“Without the mask I get wheezy, my throat is horrible and itchy, and I can pass out, I probably should have been hospitalised a few times.
“I’m happy answering questions about urticaria but when people shout offensive things or ‘You look like a Fortnite character’ it’s not ok, people have said it quite a lot.
“It’s irritating, people give opinions on the street, on the bus and online, I just have to roll my eyes most of the time.”
Max’s first reaction occurred nine-years-ago, after sitting outside for less than 20 minutes, when their legs erupted in an angry rash.
After going inside a warm car, the symptoms began to reduce but from then onwards reactions have exacerbated to the point where it happens daily.
Doctors initially believed it could be caused by allergies to tree pollen, dust, mould and more – but after tests came back clear cold induced urticaria was diagnosed months later.
Max said: “It was the first time I had a reaction, so I didn’t notice until I stood up.
“We sought refuge in car where I was warm, then another time when I was outside it happened again.
“I just thought, ‘What is this madness?’ because it was the height of summer and not particularly cold – it was ridiculous.”
Since then Max’s reactions can be triggered by a variety of stimulus, from every day food and drink, to a cold breeze.
Max said: “I’m allergic to my own sweat and tears, leaning on a cold table, a wet wipe once.
“Even my watches and moisturisers have to be warmed up before being put on my skin.
“Air-conditioning is my nemesis, cold drinks or food – ice cream is a big one – and when I get out the shower while the water is drying on my skin it can cause a reaction too.”
Max started wearing a Vogmask six months ago, after struggling with breathing difficulties and watching the symptoms intensify.
They also wear a medical alert bracelet that warns others about Max’s allergy to the cold – hoping it could help any first responders or Samaritans trying to help if they passed out.
Max also battles fibromyalgia, which can require them to be in a wheelchair when the musculoskeletal pain becomes too much.
Max said: “As my urticaria gets worse, I do worry about what could happen and anaphylaxis, there are suggestions that I should carry an EpiPen just in case.
“Recently while walking along the river my entire face burned, I had horrible ear pain and it all swelled up. I can still feel wheezy even while wearing the mask.
“People always treat me with suspicion when I am wearing a mask, as if it’s something bad, I understand why, but it’s to help my breathing.
“I wear a medical alert bracelet too that tells people I am allergic to the cold in case I do pass out and hope that they don’t take my mask off.”