The most common symptoms of physical urticaria are Itching (pruritus) and Hives consisting of red rings around white ridges (wheals). Sensitivity to cold is usually manifested by these eruptions on the skin, itching, and Swelling under the skin (angioedema). These symptoms develop most typically after exposure to cold is terminated and during or after swimming or bathing. Contraction of the muscles around the bronchi (bronchospasm) and even histamine-mediated shock may occur in extreme cases. If this happens during swimming, drowning may present a danger.
Sensitivity to cold can be passively transferred with serum that contains a specific immunoglobulin (IgE) antibody, suggesting an allergic reaction involving a physically altered skin protein as the cause of the allergic reaction. The serum of a few patients with cold-induced symptoms of physical urticaria contains cryoglobulins or cryofibrinogen, these abnormal proteins can also be associated with a serious underlying disorder such as a malignancy, a collagen vascular disease, or chronic infection. Cold may aggravate asthma or vasomotor rhinitis, but cold urticaria is independent of any other known allergic tendencies.
Dermatographia, dermographism, or autographism describes welts or wheels produced by scratching or firmly stroking the skin. According to some dermatologists, dermographism is the most common form of physical urticaria. This sign can appear quite suddenly and may become apparent in hot weather or after a hot shower or bath. Occasionally it is the first sign of an urticarial drug reaction. Physical urticaria has also occurred following persistent vibration of the skin, and even after exposure to water (aquagenic urticaria).