Can you really be allergic to water? The story of Tessa Hansen-Smith, a 25-year-old from Fresno, California, is going around the world. She said she has been experiencing a daily ordeal since she was 8 years old. She would be among the 250 people in the world who suffer from a rare and serious form of aquagenic urticaria: a contact allergy that causes skin rashes, redness and intense itching.
Her sweat and tears can also cause sores and bruises and the woman also reports that she is unable to drink or shower, avoiding direct contact with water as much as possible.
Logically, a water intolerance of this magnitude requires significant lifestyle changes. Tessa talks about her days on Instagram with her account Livingwaterless and says she has to avoid any kind of activity that could make her sweat or get dirty, as well as having to be careful about everything she touches or eats, given that any food with a high water content causes a burning sensation in her mouth and stomach . And as a result she drinks mostly milk, she uses dry shampoo, wet wipes and deodorant for daily cleaning.
Another major challenge he faces is the skepticism surrounding his condition. People often doubt her allergy and she also reported cases of bullying on the university campus in Davis, California, where some went so far as to test his allergy by splashing water on her. Certainly for us who can count on public health it also seems strange that you have started a fundraising campaign on GoFundMe to pay for your pharmaceutical and hospital treatments, which in the United States are all paid for.
What is aquagenic urticaria
To understand more on the topic, we asked the professor for explanations Pietro Quaglino, director of the Dermatology Clinic of the University of Turin, who in his twenty-year career has had patients with the same pathology. “Aquagenic urticaria is a dermatological condition characterized by the appearance of itching and skin rash following contact with water, hot, cold or both. It is a rare condition, but affects many more than 250 people in the world even if the symptoms and consequences are decidedly less impactful than those reported by this American girl.”
Epidemiological data report that one in 5 people has at least one episode of urticaria during their lifetime, with a peak between the ages of 20 and 40 and a greater frequency in women. It is not known exactly how many could show a reaction to the water, just as no one knows precise details about Tessa’s clinical case, so “I cannot comment specifically on her condition”, but “I have never seen such serious consequences” and, above all, “urticaria responds very well to pharmacological treatments and even with this aquagenic form you can live without having to give up washing”.
Wheals after shower
Water is the main constituent of the human body and represents over 60% of our body weight. What can generate a reaction to an element universally considered inert? “It is a physical urticaria, which has a different mechanism from those of an allergic nature. This form usually has a chronic course, triggered by physical stimuli, with a generally unknown pathogenesis”, explains Professor Quaglino.
It can manifest itself with itching, redness, rashes and swelling of the skin in the affected area but the lesions have a variable latency time, from a few minutes up to 24 hours, often followed by a refractory period, and in any case limited to the sites exposed to the stimulus .
“The cases that I was able to see firsthand showed wheals, angioedema or redness that appeared immediately after a shower and then disappeared on their own. It can appear at any age, although it is more likely that it begins during adolescence, and Even if it is not a congenital disease, you could have a genetic predisposition.”
Can you drink water?
But if you suffer from aquagenic urticaria, can’t you even drink water? “This is not reported in any clinical case in the literature. The discomfort manifests itself on the skin, after prolonged contact such as a shower or a bath. Then the severity of the symptoms can vary from mild to severe, but there are no contraindications at levels food”, continues the expert.
It cannot be ruled out that the girl in question has developed a sort of phobia for water, given that she has had this type of reaction on her skin for years and, as she herself says on her social media biography, that she suffers from depression, anxiety and depression disorder. post traumatic stress due to this condition.
The only positive thing is that “it can be kept under control by using the right drugs – concludes Quaglino -. After having done the dermatological tests and all the allergic tests, the therapies involve the use of antihistamines or cortisone. Then there are some more serious cases that can develop edema of the eyes or lips, and even respiratory symptoms such as asthma. And if cortisone is not enough, immunosuppressants can also be prescribed. But in most cases the regression is spontaneous.”