The Girl Who Was Allergic to Water

“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. urticaria-hives.jpg

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:

  • Medications
  • Foods
  • Food Additives (especially yellow food dye)
  • Infections
  • Emotional stress
  • Menthol
  • Some cancers
  • Airborne elements (pollen, dust mites, aerosols, molds)
  • Alcohol

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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41 thoughts on “The Girl Who Was Allergic to Water

  1. Intriguing. I assume that these folks can drink water, they just can’t get it on their skin? I’ve not taken any kind of histology, but what makes the skin different from the endothelial tissues that line the circulatory system?

  2. Wow. Have never heard of that.

    This gives me a flashback to my second pregancy, when, for 1 night at work (worked 11pm-7am), I developed hives when I came into contact with Ultrasonic gel. Very problematic for an OB nurse!
    When my OB came in to make rounds at 7am, I told him about it. He expressed a mild disbelief, so I took a small amount of the gel, put it on my arm then immediately wiped it off. Lovely, lovely wheal arose instantly. But it went away after that night and never happened again.

    It was weird. Have you ever encountered something like that?

  3. Dawn-

    I cannot say I’ve seen urticaria to gel yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me. It also doesn’t surprise me that it happened when you were pregnant and never recurred. Pregnancy can do remarkable things to your immune system.

    Thanks for stopping by.

  4. RJS-

    Good question. Your skin and immune system are inextricably linked. Your skin’s immune system is set up specifically to find and attack threats in your skin. As you would guess, these threats are different from those that contact your endothelial tissues; the immune system is set up differently there. Although there are similarities, (you can see overlap of many skin diseases in the mouth for example) there are enough differences such that things like aquagenic urticaria is limited to the skin.

  5. when i get wet for 15ish minutes in salt water/sweat and usually more then 30 minutes in fresh/tap i develop hives or a rash. it does not seem to be from any added chemical because i get it from salt water, rain and tap water. strangely my dad also has the same thing, i only got this as i started puberty as did my dad. no one believes me when i tell them because i dont get the reaction very quickly so usually cant show them. Ive never bothered with checking with my doctor because when my dad did this as a kid the doctor told him as long as it’s not doing any long term harm he should be fine. also my emotions seem to change the reaction time, as i usually will not get a reaction in my short showers except when i am tired, sad or angry

  6. I personally suffer from aquagenic urticaria and have done for a very long time. It is very frustrating and debilitating condition. I have seen the best in the field in my area and researched non stop. Antihistamines do not work. I was taking multiple tablets and multiple combinations of drugs in desperation to relieve the symptoms. The best solution for me to date is a daily dose of predisalone. 25 is the ideal to remove any reaction (for me) however as a long term drug I have researched it is not ideal to take, plus the advice from doctors supports my findings. This condition is very painful, frustrating and it does impact your family life and social life immensely. The only way I can describe the symptoms I feel is: Imagine a bull ant bite and the sting and after effect it leaves. Now multiply that my about 100,000 bites aver your back, legs, shoulders and arms all at the same time also it lasting up to 60 minutes. . No amount of rubbing or itching removes the pain. The strangest thing is though. Afterwards on the occasion that I have a very severe case, I feel drugged and very drained, like I just ran a few miles. If I had a choice between winning to lotto or a cure for this condition. The price to pay for relief would be priceless. For anyone else reading this and having the same condition. If you have a therapy even if it “weird” please post it I will try it.

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  8. Wow! This post has totally explained something I’m going through. Thank you for the information.

    My skin breaks out into little bumps (rash/ hives) that slowly turn itchy over a couple of days. This is usually after I have had some sun/ heat exposure. I live in the tropics so there’s no escaping it.
    I developed this almost 4 years ago when post-pregnancy, I fell sick with a very bad flu and was under a lot of stress because I had a lot of fieldwork at the time.

    Would that have been a trigger of sorts?

    I’ve been to a dermatologist who really didn’t seem to take my explanation seriously and suggested that I go back to take allergy tests but I didn’t.

    But now at least I don’t feel so dumb.

    Thank you.

  9. Hi,
    I think I suffered this at the beach today. I am 42 and have enjoyed swimming in the sea all my life. Today however was a different story. After a short swim my hand felt like I had chillblanes: the skin was tight and hard and tingling. After a longer period in the water I had to get out: my whole body was red with small welts, similar to your photo above. I showered in cold fresh water and the rash began to ease. Within about an hour my skin was back to normal, though I felt totally drained for about two hours afterwards. Just after the shower I felt like it was hard to breathe, though I put this down to psychsomatic rather than real: hard to know though.Then I started to regain some energy.

    Does this sound like aquagenic urticaria? Is it more serious than just the discomfort? Is thewr anything that can be done? What are the chabnces that is was just a one off? and finally, is it worth seeing a doctor about?

    Regards
    Craig

  10. reply to Craig.
    It sounds like there may have been something in the water that day that made u react, u could try swimming in the ocean in a different area to check this maybe. every person’s reaction i have heard about is different. it seems strange that u would get this in sea water but not in fresh water, specially after 42 years without a reaction.

  11. I suffer from chronic urticaria that’s triggered by methyl and methane byproducts, topical contact with my own body fluids… yup you read correctly .. excercise, eucalyptus.. running water of any temperature or latitude across my feet causes severe pain, sweating, crying (its the worst, it burns my face and causes extreme pain for days), aerosols, the scent of gasoline mineral/baby oil…. Salivating during my sleeping hours typically causes me to wake up with severely swollen lips and my eyes swollen all but shut. The swelling typically recedes in a few hours but if the hives start… ack! My last bout with them lasted almost 4 solid months. I also have adrenal suppression so the typical prednisone relief is out of the question. I take typically hydroxyzine hydrochloride as an antihistimine and during severe flareups a 1-3 month treatment of cyclosporine.

    This is a very real condition and can be both quite physically and emotionally exhausting.

  12. I have that.! It started almost two or three years ago and now i can not go swimming or even touch the dew on the grass with out my whole entire body breaking out with in 10 minutes.! i thought i was the only one because all my doctors said i was full of it even when i brought in pictures and poured lake water on my arm [then the hives appeared]. Im going to try that Benadryl and vasiline thing. you dont know how happy i am that someone actually knows whats keeps happening to me and can actually explain it too.! thank you so much.!

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  14. Very interesting article for me as I think I may have this condition. Ever since I was around 10 years old I began getting very strange rashes when exposed to freshwater for more than 30 or so minutes, depending on the heat and whether it was from a faucet or a natural source. They look exactly like the ones in the photo at the top of the article and are extremely itchy. I get them occasionally when I sweat and do not have the air flow through my clothing to keep my skin dry enough. Places like my back, legs, arms stomach and *cough* butt are the main areas of effect. I used to go hiking when I was younger and sometimes the itch would be so bad I couldn’t sleep. I would say that it affects areas with more pores and less access to open air. Luckily for me once I dry out the itching subsides in roughly an hour and the welts are gone in another hour. Thanks for the info!

  15. I never thought i’d find anything that explained this. My 12 year old daughter has been on the city swim team for 5 years. This is the first season we decided to take a break. She never showed any sign of this before. We took her to the river about a month ago and she developed the rash and hives. It went away and we didn’t think of it until a week later when on vacation at a water park it happened again. Seemed kind of weird since river water and pool water are not similar in any way. Then again at her friends pool, and as of this weekend at the ocean. She is severely allergic to sulfa drugs and penicilan. We always have an epi pen with us. She is also allergic to lots of bug sprays, developes the same rash. I am not going to wait to take her to the doctor now. She definately has something. I am curious now as to whether there is allergy testing for this because she is so alergic to the sulfa and penicillin that we’ve been told she will most likely go into cardic arrest if she ever had it again. I now worry the same could happen in the water. This certinly leaves me with just as may questions, even though i have some answers.

  16. unfortunitly i have the same thing. but for some reasons there doctors here in saskatchewan canada think iam crazy.ive told them alot that i Break out like 2 seconds iam out of the shower, and they start getting itchy when iam drying my self off. but now for me its getting worse. my throat is starting to swell.i even get them when i get to hot that iam sweating or when i get cold. but thanks so much now i have somthing new to bring to the doctors:D

  17. I have always gotten hives when I swim in the ocean but mainly under my bathing suit where the material stays wet for a while. I also get hives when I shower with softened water. Untreated water is fine! This took me a while to figure out…had to keep turning my water softener on and off. Just went to a B&B with soft water and got hives for the first time in a long time. The hives only last about 10-20 minutes.

  18. Hello, I am a 21 year old male. I think I have an allergy to water as well!
    For about a month now, I have developed similar rashes as in the photo when in contact with water. Usually, I’d go for the swim, and my body would start to itch all over. After 5 min, I would get red rashes all over. I’d get away from water and it would go away. However, today I almost passed out in the lake because I didn’t get out on time. It’s been few hours now, and while I feel better, my body is very shaken.
    My doctor says “that’s a bizzare story”.
    So where do I seek to check if I have allergy to water?
    You can email me: bncheto@yahoo.com

  19. I’m not sure about what’s going on with me. A lot of the explainations that i’ve read on the internet are helpful but not exactly what im going through. Everytime I’m fully immersed in water, i get a rash that itches BADLY. The rash develops small bumps and it hurts to scratch it but i cant help it. It has happened at the beach and water parks in Virgina and in a pond and pool in tennessee. Another difference that i have is that it doesn’t go away for a few DAYS. It’s very distressing. I’m actually broken out right now after going to a water park yesterday. I’m on the computer to keep my hands busy so i dont scratch. The rash is mainly on my chest area, my thighs and calves, my forearms and back.
    This has only started in the last couple months. I’m fine when i take a shower (ten minutes and quick dry) and minorly get wet but full immersion (swimming, oceans, baths) sets my skin into a rash. It’s unsightly and slightly painfull and REALLLLLY itchy. I just want to know what the best plan for me is.
    thank you,
    Jessica

  20. My daughter also suffers from extremely itchy feet. if she has a shower for prolonged periods of time, her body is so itchy she can hardly stand it. if her feet sweat, the her feet itch and she scratches some times until she bleeds. Her feet are an embarrassment to her now as they are covered in scars. She has limited her showering to 4-5 minutes but still suffers the itch. She has tried many different kinds of creams to stop the itching but they only work for a few seconds.

    now she can wash her hair and leave her hair wet and not suffer from an itchy scalp. Is this still possible?

  21. i wonder if this person is having an allergic reaction to what the water has been treated with

    from a chinese medicine perspective i bet she’s got some liver qi stagnation going on!

    maybe take look at this person’s liver enzymes and CRP for inflammation, it would be interesting to get baseline levels

  22. I had this condition for years, from 14 till 20. No one knew why or how to deal with it. People were raising eyebrows and picking on me constantly, with that stupid remark that our bodies are made of 60 % water – it really didn’t help :) It was never the chemicals in the water, because during those years I was exposed to water in Germany, Russia, Israel, Romania and UK. In addition to lakes and sea. The results were always the same – itching and red spots and a rash. Today I’m 27 – the condition is over, it went away by itself, the same way it showed up. I still avoid drinking water though – it makes me feel bad.

  23. i suffer from this urticaria too.. in the begining drinking water or even coke caused redness and and hives in my lips and tongues and i had troubles in breathing and swallowing , couldn’t get a short shower without getting the hives . it seemed like any liquid has almost the same impact as water , i took steroid for a month and now after 3 monthes it seems like im allergic to cold liquids only and sweat.
    and any contact with water ( causes redness in the part of my body which touched water and my ((ears)) )
    is it possible that water urticaria transformed into cold urticaria?

  24. My daughter just recently started getting rashes everytime she gets in the tub. she is only 4. so for the past month n 1/2 evereytime she just plays in the tub or takes a shower w/in mins she brakes out in red welts all over her body. they disappear about an hour or so after she gets out of the tub. right after she turned 4 she satrted getting these bite looking things all over her body those stopped when the rashes started. so what r her chances of having this?

  25. I don’t know what this is, but it’s not an allergy. It’s not just a cliche, we really ARE about 60-70% water. If you were allergic to it, you would die, as your immune system reacted to the very chemical you need to survive. Furthermore, since allergies are genetically passed on, a water allergy would be naturally selected out completely, since any carrier of the gene would die upon its development. Whatever causes these rashes, it isn’t a true allergy.

    I also can’t help but notice that there is a definite reaction of hypochondriasis to this article.

  26. I seem to have a bit of this, too. I developed hives right after delivering my first child. Initially it seemed a hormonal thing. It went away completely during my second pregnancy, which makes the hormonal explanation sound right. Since then, though, I have pretty much gotten over my daily hives and now have flare ups (mostly on my hands and feet) when I go swimming in salt water or have long exposure in the sun. I’m hoping that after a few more years my body might change a little more and rid me of this miserable affliction. The only thing I find somewhat helpful is the Benadryl spray and lotion. I can’t take the oral Benadryl as it makes me to drowsy. When I had my most severe cases of hives (head to toe), my doctor did prescribe me some Atarax. It stopped the itching. The down side of this treatment was that the hives “flattened” out on my skin and got redder, so visually I looked like a burn victim. But, the itching was relieved, and that is all I cared about.

  27. ok, so everytime i take a shower, swim, or sweat i do get these itchy bumps/rashes on my skin. but, its only on my chest, arms, neck, face, and my stomach. it lasts for a couple hours then goes away. its not severe, ive learned to live with it as it started happening around when i started puberty i think. i told my parents and we tried switching soaps and things like that. also, we got water softner for the shower water but all of this didnt help. does this mean i may have a minor condition of this?

  28. I have recently discovered the herb fenugreek, it is supposed to balance hormones. If this allergy is hormonal, maybe this herb will help.

  29. its horrible. iv been allergic to water since i was born and almost instantly my skin breaks out in hives. i took benedryl one night about Febuary and i stayed up all night itching and crying. in the morning my face and chest were both all red and irritated.im 13 years old and this was one of the worst times ever.

  30. I can understand that in rare cases people’s skin may have an allergic reaction when in contact with water. But, what doesn’t fit into my head is that some people that are allergic to water can’t actually DRINK it! That means the body rejects it internally as well. My question is…How is it possible for these people to live without drinking water. Our cells are mostly water, our body is about 60% water, most humans cannot survive more than 5 days without water so how is it physically possible?

  31. Yes, these strange allergies and urticarias do exist! This was a great article, and I always appreciate anyone taking the time to educate the public on these rare urticarias. As many of the above comments show, many doctors and the general public are ignorant about these conditions.

    I suffer from cholinergic urticaria, and my life is torture. Most antihistamines don’t even begin to knock the hives down, and I can basically do nothing about it but avoid getting warm. My wife has to mow and weedeat the yard, and many times, even do grocery shopping.

    I hope in the future technology will be able to find a better and safe treatment for these strange urticarias. In the meantime, I hope more and more people are able to raise awareness about it.

  32. Considered this?

    Polycythemia Rubivera: Has hyperviscosity, hypervolemia, HISTAMINEMIA, and hyperuricemia.

    In PV- all cells are increased: RBC’s, WBC’s, platelets, including mast cells and basophils.

    Example: Classic history: pt takes a shower and gets itchy all over body – this is a tip off for polycythemia rubivera – why? Mast cells and basophils are located in the skin and temperature changes can degranulate mast cells, causing a release of histamine, leading to generalized itching (very few things cause generalized itching – bile salt deposition in the skin in pts with obstructive jaundice, and pts with mast cell degranulation), face is red looking, too b/c of histamine b/c vasodilatation, leading to migraine-like headaches.

  33. i would like to say that it is very interesting how someone can be allergic to water. I did not even know that was possible so how do they take a shower?

  34. Hi, I would like to add that my daughter who is now 16 was diagnosed from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester Minnesota a disease called Aqua Dynia. (Allergic to water). It is only now on the palm of her hands. She is on medication to stop the pain so she can take a shower daily. She is told that she is the 5th person in the world to have this. It started when she was young. She was always itchy after being in water. We purchased every lotion until it started to hurt which we understand it mainly was from the alcohol in lotions. She is in pain daily because of sweating. We live in Minnesota so the summers are her worst.

  35. I just started getting hives especially after showerin i am in my twenties and this just started happening. i’ve googled and seen images of mites and scabies rashes and mine are more like hives. they happen randomly. and the itching and hives dont last long but do happen rather frequently, at least 2x a day. But i dont think its bug bites or mites or anything bc the bumps and rashes vanish and i read that those bumps and rashes stay for several days to weeks. but these vanish leaving no trace.
    mainly its around my waist band/ pantyline. and if i sometimes forget a hairband around my wrist (especially after a shower bc then the moist hairband causes it to break get really itchy hives) on my knees legs mostly my calves but sometimes thighs. sometimes my lower arms and rarely but on occasion my jawline/lower cheeks/face and neck area. Pretty much its all over, never all at once just random. at first my forearms were breaking out now its mostly my knees it just randomly affects different areas at a time. its terrible. could this be a a water allergy? bc it is insanely itchy after showers. bumps welts and hives.
    i just dont know. and bc they go away i keep saying im going to get it checked out by the doctor but then i have no bumps or nothing to show since they go away after maybe no more than hour. maybe like 30minutes.

    sorry for the long post.
    _but your help is opinion is much appreciated.
    thanks!

  36. *yes btw it started on my forearms i actually confused it for posion ivy. ive had it before and the hives were similar. but it went away and it just started progressing with more and more frequency.

  37. I’ve been having this same allergic problem with water since i was 12-13.I’m 18 now an i have not gone to a dermatologist.I payed no mind to it because i tut it was some sort of bacteria in my skin.There is so much that i had tried.From taking alcohol showers,bathing in herbal remedies,letting the water dry on my skin (SUPER ITCHY) to sleeping naked.lol.NOTHING WORKS.It changes your life dramatically when you have to give up the things that you love doing.”I can’t play sports with out looking like a crack head scratching,or go swimming at the beach or pool without having to keep my shirt on”.how am i suppose to show the ladies my packs with out having to blow dry my abdominal first. ESPECIALLY IF YOUR CUBAN WE LOVE THAT SALT LYFE.My conclusion is:We have it good compare to what other people have.*SO TURN THAT FROWN UP SIDE DOWN*

  38. I stumbled at this article when I was looking for images of hives to identify the ones my 3-year old had. I was so much surprised to see this image with hives that looked exactly like what I have on my face and chest after showering or bathing, and more – to learn that other people had it after being exposed to water! I’m now 40 and I’ve had this reaction since I was a teenager as far as I remember and I first thought that I was just “overly sensitive” (that was my self image because I had allergic asthma and nobody else around had it). Only quite recently I decided that it was probably a reaction to either chlorine in the water or chemicals in the soaps. It seems like I did not have the reaction after salty sea water. I purchased a shower water filter and paraben-free shower gels and I’ve been enjoying showering for 2 years now.

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  40. My 12 year old daughter has all of a sudden started to have an allergic reaction to salt/sea water and rain water. (not sure on pool water as only 2 weeks since it started happening). Nothing with tap water, fingers crossed it stays that way. With all the reading ive done on other people’s experiences, it seems puberty/ manopause(spelling that wrong!) and a allergy to penicillin seems a comman factor in the female side of things.
    My daughter has been a water baby her whole life, (up till now) she’d spend hours in the water/ ocean. Also as a younger child she’d play in the rain for hours as well. Now she can’t even spent 5 minutes in the ocean, before she’s out with instant hives. It settles in 20-30 minutes, but shes left drained of energy.
    Same with the rain water.
    Wondering if anyone knows if this is just a stage or if its going to be an on going thing. Kind regards fellow sufferers.x

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