Can You Be Allergic To Water?

With the “heat dome” hovering over the United States, all of us here at Awkward Human have been itching for a water park get away. Being submerged in a cool pool during a sunny afternoon is always magical, but being the morbid and dark people that we are, we got thinking–with all of the weird allergies that exist, is it possible that someone could be allergic to water?

Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but a person can actually have allergic reactions to water. There are less than 100 reported cases of aquagenic urticaria, a skin disease that causes an allergic reaction to water, so it exists as one of the rarest allergy-type illnesses in the world. 

People like Alexandra Allen, a woman diagnosed with aquagenic urticaria when she was just 12 years old, cannot allow themselves to come into contact with water. Those suffering from aquagenic urticaria usually have to avoid all things water, including showers, baths, swimming pools, lakes, oceans, drinking water, sweating, crying, humidity in the air, snow, and rain. Most cases present themselves in women going through puberty, but it is known to appear in men and also young children. 

When asked about her condition by New York Magazine, Alexandra explained how her and her doctors think this skin disease works:

Everyone produces oils that soften their skin, but the oils I produce become toxic when they meet water — and that’s the part that’s a mystery to doctors. They don’t know how or why the oil in my skin is different, if it’s genetic or if it was brought on by something in my childhood. They have taken skin samples and tested the oil. So far I seem to be completely normal — aside from the fact that I turn water into acid.

Though Alexandra and her team of doctors might have a good idea of what causes it, this is only a theory. The root causes is not something that is known universally or understood. Dr. Barney J. Kenet spoke with ABC news who covered Alexandra’s story, and he explained other potential causes:

The cause of aquagenic urticarial is not well understood, Kenet said. One theory is that the sweat glands within the skin produce a toxin that triggers the allergic response, he said. Or it could be that antigens that cause the immune system to produce antibodies are absorbed in the skin after dissolving in water to trigger the allergic reaction.

Obviously, no matter how allergic one is to water, cleaning is important. For most people diagnosed with this skin disease, a cold shower is only tolerable for one minute and it comes with itchy and burning hives. Even more unfortunate, there doesn’t seem to be a cure yet. Nina Goad, Head of Communications at British Association of Dermatologists, had this to say to the Daily Mail:

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.

Many of these patients have different levels of severity and different symptoms. While it might be okay for someone with this disease to drink water, for others it can make their throat swell. Drinks like tea, coffee, lemonade, juices, anything with a high water content are all out of the question. And unfortunately, this will only get worse with age as it is a degenerative disease. That’s why Michaela Dutton can drink only diet sodas

Our thoughts with you, Alexandra, and all the other humans out there with this diagnosis!