Sweating can be uncomfortable, but for one college soccer play it goes way beyond comfort levels. Caitlin McComish, a 20-year-old from Ohio, has a reaction that is similar to an allergy to her own sweat that poses major risk to her life.
McComish has always had food allergies, but the reaction to her own sweat was new. She discovered this during a run in May 2013. Running through her hometown of White House, Ohio McComish began to feel unwell. It began as an upset stomach along with her palms and bottoms of her feet feeling tingly. She became extremely itchy, and said it hit her “like uncomfortable heat waves.” Next her throat began to swell and her tongue became thick.
Fortunately McComish, who was in front of her grade school, was able to get a phone call out to her mother before collapsing. An ambulance arrived and found McComish’s throat was closing and she was barely responding. McComish, who is a promising goal-keeper at the University of Toledo, went into shock 17 times after returning to school. Each time it happened, McComish was near the soccer field.
McComish was seen at the Cleveland Clinic, where doctors discovered the soccer player was having an inflammatory reaction, similar to an allergy, to her own sweat that was putting her at risk. She was diagnosed with cholinergic urticarial. Cholinergic urticarial is surprisingly common, but McComish has a form that is unusually severe.
In a study that involved 500 high school students, 10 percent of them were estimated to have some form of cholinergic urticarial. This is a condition where the main provoking factor is typically sweat or heat, Dr. David Lang, chairman of the department of allergy and clinical immunology at The Cleveland Clinic, explained. The provoking factors cause the individuals with this condition to experience itching and swelling. Dr. Lang went on to say how common it is in the general population, but that it is usually mild in most cases and, “patients either aren’t aware of it or manage their symptoms well.”
There are many things that can trigger heat and sweat, which then cause the swelling and itching. The main culprits include exercise, hot baths or showers, eating before exercising, and even being in a Jacuzzi. While heat and sweat are the main provoking factors, individuals with this disorder can also have a reaction to the cold in a similar manner.
Where does all of this leave McComish and her soccer playing? Dr. Lang prescribed advancing doses of antihistamines and other medications for McComish. These medications did not help, nor did the cooling vest she wore or the ice baths she took before and after soccer practice. Dr. Lang tried McComish on a drug typically used for asthma, Xolair injections. Under this treatment McComish has shown dramatic improvements and is able to continue playing soccer.
Unfortunately, McComish has been medically disqualified under rules of the NCAA because of another condition she has, Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. McComish is able to keep a positive attitude through the medical ordeals.
McComish spoke of how she used to push her health issues under the rug, and just keep playing. That all changed when her favorite coach told her, “There is a difference between working hard and working smart.” Now she says, “I know my health comes first.” McComish is sharing her story with the hope that it will encourage others with similar symptoms to come forward. This soccer player with the risky allergy to her own sweat is finding the silver lining, “Some of the best things in my life have come from this.”
By Ashley Campbell