“Teenage Girl Allergic to Water.” Sounds like a pretty sensational headline. I mean, can someone really be allergic to water?
Yep, they can. In fact, the unfortunate few people who have this problem can actually risk their lives just by taking a shower.
The allergy is a rare condition called aquagenic urticaria. People who have it develop intensely itchy, even painful hives when their skin comes into contact with water. The itchy wheals or hives develop within minutes of exposure and can persist for hours afterward.
Interestingly, any amount of water can trigger an attack. This means not only a dip in the pool or your morning shower, but also tears, sweat, and even saliva. In severe cases, it can trigger a life-threatening systemic reaction with difficulty breathing and swallowing.
Aquagenic urticaria can sometimes be prevented in these patients by coating their skin with petrolatum (plain vaseline) before exposure to water. It can also been treated with antihistamines such as Benedryl or Zyrtec.
Regular urticaria (hives), in contrast to the aquagenic type, are common. They usually present as very itchy, pink welts that make annular (circle-like) or figurate (number-like) shapes. The rash usually lasts for a few hours and in most people it is temporary. This can be quite difficult to treat and can be an almost unbearable plague for the victim.
Much to my frustration, there are many things that can trigger urticaria in patients, including:
- Food Additives (especially yellow food dye)
- Emotional stress
- Some cancers
- Airborne elements (pollen, dust mites, aerosols, molds)
Some urticarias are caused by physical triggers. They’re called physical urticaria (easy test answer). They include:
- Dermatographism – physical scratching of the skin that results in welts
- Cold urticaria – exposed areas of skin, such as hands and face develop hives in cold weather
- Heat urticaria – occurs within 5 minutes of exposer to high temperatures
- Solar urticaria – caused by sunlight
- Pressure urticaria – hives result 3 to 12 hours after prolonged pressure on the skin
- Exercise urticaria – hives develop 5 to 30 minutes after beginning exercise
- Vibratory urticaria – just like it sounds.
- And lastly, aquagenic urticaria
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