Aquagenic urticaria, also known as ‘water allergy’, is a rarely diagnosed form of Physical Urticaria. It is sometimes described as an allergy, although it is not a true Histamine -releasing allergic reaction like other forms of urticaria. The defining symptom is a painful skin reaction resulting from contact with water. This may also be the effect of different temperatures of water, such as cold or hot, and can flare with chemicals such as fluorine and chlorine.
Aquagenic urticaria causes the skin to itch extremely and occasionally burn after being exposed to water. The skin may develop hives or spots. Showers may result in severely dry eyes and soreness. Higher water temperature tend to expedite the formation of hives. Shortness of breath or swelling in the throat can occur when drinking water. The pain usually persists for between 10–120 minutes. Tear on one’s face from crying can also cause pain. Aquagenic urticaria, although rare, is more common in young teens (14-16 years old) and is almost unheard in adult and older years.
A case of Aquagenic Urticaria has been recorded in Autralia in 2008.
Teenager Ashleigh Morris is allergic to water. She can’t go swimming, soak in a hot bath or enjoy a shower after a stressful day’s work – Even sweating brings her out in a painful rash. Ashleigh, from Melbourne, Australia, is allergic to water of any temperature, a condition she’s lived with since she was 14.
Most doctors and dermatologists have never seen a case of it. “Many people don’t even believe me when I tell them,” said Ashleigh, who hardly believed it herself at first. She developed the condition five years ago after an acute case of tonsillitis. She was prescribed a heavy dose of penicillin that rid her of the tonsillitis but left her with another problem. “I suddenly started getting a rash after I showered or swam,” says Ashleigh who used to swim regularly and spend a lot of time at the beach. “I tried to ignore it but it got progressively worse so I went to see a dermatologist.”
Ashleigh’s dermatologist, Professor Rodney Sinclair, told her the penicillin had altered the histamine levels in her body and caused the Aquagenic Urticaria to occur.There is no cure and no successful treatment for the condition.So she found ways to avoid water – she stopped doing sports and anything that made her sweat.She makes sure she stays in air-conditioned places and always has an umbrella in her car. Her family and boyfriend of three years, Adam, are very supportive but her condition makes intimate moments with her Adam a little difficult. “We have to sleep with a sheet between us at night, and I can’t go near him if he’s sweaty,” said Ashleigh.
Dermatologists agree there’s an association with elevated blood histamine levels, but there are other processes at work since antihistamine drugs often provide no relief at all. Aquagenic urticaria can be treated by applying capsaicin cream to the affected area. Capsaicin cream is also the same treatment that is used for shingles. Steroid cream is also used to treat the symptoms. There are also other remedies that seem to help ease aquagenic urticaria symptoms and help the person live a more comfortable life. Nina Goad of the British Association of Dermatologists says: “There isn’t a wealth of information about Aquagenic Urticaria because it’s extremely rare. “We’re not sure how many cases there are in the world and we do not yet fully understand the precise mechanisms that trigger the weals.”