What would you do if you couldn’t go for a swim or walk out in the rain? Some people really can’t. It’s an extremely rare medical condition that seems almost unfathomable, but many people have to care that they don’t get any water on their skin. It’s called aquagenic urticaria, or an allergic reaction to water.
Aquagenic urticaria causes a rash or hives to break out on the skin when the person with the condition is exposed to any water. The lesions can be itchy and painful, and can lead to a headache. Unfortunately there is no cure for the problem. Add into this that there is no known cause why it occurs.
The condition affects women more than men, but it can happen at any age, and will occur not matter what the temperature of the water or the type of water. There is a quick response when the skin is exposed to water, and a rash or hives can appear from within a minute to 15 minutes. The lesions then grow more painful as time passes. Some people even have a reaction after drinking water. Others have a reaction to sweat or even tears. This condition is so rare that only 30-40 cases have been diagnosed worldwide since it was first described in 1964, but it is believed that only about 30% of the cases have been actually documented worldwide.
Doctors diagnose aquagenic urticaria by doing a simple test where water is placed on the skin, either directly or with a wet paper towel, and observe the response after 30 minutes. They then try to determine if the reaction is because of temperature of the water, or if different types of water will cause a reaction, such as tap, distilled, or saline. This helps them rule out a different type of urticaria, or skin rash.
While there is no cure for the problem, treatments are used to decrease the reaction when someone comes into contact with water. Oral antihistamines, topical corticosteroids, PUVA therapy, which combines the topical medication psoralen with ultraviolet A light, epinephrine, UV radiation, and barrier methods are all used to lessen the reactions but aren’t similar in effectiveness from person to person.
People with aquagenic urticaria still have to live with water to drink, and they bathe just like everyone else. But even after a quick shower the painful rash can develop no matter how quickly they towel off. There are other allergic reactions that are just as strange, such as exposure to any sunlight called polymorphous light eruption, but who would have thought that someone could be allergic to something in which are body is composed the most of–water.