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Is it Possible To Be Allergic To Water?

Swimming in cooler water might cause an allergic reaction in some people.
A person washing his hands.
Glass of drinking water.
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  • Written By: Allison Boelcke
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 April 2014
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In rare cases, it is possible for a person to physically be allergic to water that touches the skin. A water allergy is generally in the form of a skin reaction that occurs when a person is exposed to water, such as during bathing or swimming, but may rarely cause internal organ symptoms. The skin reaction will typically depend on the temperature of the water. There are two main types of water allergy conditions: cold urticaria and aquagenic pruritis.

Cold urticaria is a condition in which a person may be allergic to water that is cold. He or she may experience skin irritation after direct contact with cold water. Although it tends to occur most often during swimming, the reaction can happen any time a person is exposed to cold water. The most common symptoms include bright red patches or swelling of the skin. In very rare instances, a person with cold urticaria may have difficulty breathing or have an increased heartbeat after exposure.

The exact cause of cold urticaria is not conclusively proven, but often runs in families. It may also be a symptom of an underlying medical condition, such as hepatitis, chicken pox, or mononucleosis. There is no cure for cold urticaria, but it tends to subside on its own within five years.

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The other possible way a person could be allergic to water is a condition referred to as aquagenic pruritis. This condition is different than cold urticaria because it can occur after contact with water of any temperature. The symptoms usually develop on the arms, chest, legs, or back. A person may start to notice a light red patch on the skin or experience itching after showering or swimming, even if the water is warm. Aquagenic pruritis does not have a proven cause or cure, but may be possibly treated with capsaicin in a topical form.

People who have cold urticaria or aquagenic pruritis may need to take extra precautions to prevent serious reactions after water exposure. During bathing or swimming, they may need to have someone carefully supervising them to ensure they can get quick medical attention if they experience serious symptoms. Cold urticaria may be easier for a person to deal with than aquagenic pruritis because he or she can more easily avoid cold water, while a person with aquagenic pruritis cannot realistically avoid water of all temperatures.

Although people with cold urticaria and aquagenic pruritis may experience skin reactions after exposure to water, it is not typically dangerous and they can still safely consume water. Some doctors believe that since the human body is made of water, it is impossible to actually be allergic to water. They believe these conditions do not constitute actually allergic to water and that cold urticaria and aquagenic pruritis are actually allergies to the minerals and other ingredients in the water, but not the water itself.

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Discuss this Article

anon344292
Post 16

It's a bit of a comfort to find other people with water sensitivity. "anon57770" perhaps your wide list of contacts can be of assistance to me, as I am stumped. My 5 year old son swells and gets hives whenever he touches water, but only outside.

He can swim in a pool, can bathe in the house, can drink water inside. But the outdoor sprinkler affects him, the local splash pad and the river. Touching the damp walls in a cave in Europe caused swelling, as did the mist at the top of the mounts in the Austrian alps. We have an appointment in a week with a professional, however she is somewhat confused as well. Any thoughts that could help?

anon310657
Post 15

Is there any method of getting rid of this disease, if not a cure? Can regular exercise help? Is this a circulation problem?

marniesinger
Post 13

I am convinced that aquagenic pruritus is a symptom with multiple causes, just as a fever is a symptom of various diseases. (Aquagenic urticaria is similar, except that pruritus means there is no visible sign and urticaria means there are hives or redness.)

A similar itch can be caused by kidney or liver problems, some lymphomas, thyroid problems, or a blood problem called polycythemia vera. If you're concerned about your itch, I would ask a doctor to rule out these serious problems first.

There's no harm in trying different soaps, shampoos, or waters, but most people on our aquagenic skin e-mail group have found no relief by changing these things. Much more helpful is paying attention to when and how you bathe.

Most of us have found it best to avoid bathing first thing in the morning, even though we can't figure out why it is better to bathe after exercise or in the evening.

Some are helped by cold -- standing in front of an air conditioner, using ice, going outdoors in the winter, or using menthol creams. Many of us are helped by heat -- ending the shower with the hottest water we can find, using heating pads or a hair dryer, or using capsaicin cream (but be careful -- it can burn!).

Many of us find that natural fibers are best for our skin, particularly 100 percent cotton, both for clothes and bedding.

When we're in the frantic itch stage, some of us are helped by wrapping ourselves in a sheet or blanket (cotton, of course) and pulling it tightly around us to apply pressure to the itchy parts. Scratching only makes it worse. Some of us go running or play a fast-moving computer game to distract ourselves until the itch passes.

Hang in there -- you're not alone!

anon119739
Post 12

I am not sure if this is what I am experiencing. I don't necessarily know if water is what is causing the problem, though in a few cases I can say that the shower seems to make it worse.

I sometimes experience it as an annoying itch, but sometimes a more severe version of it happens which feels so bad that it is like being poked really hard with thousands of sewing needles simultaneously. This can be in my face, hands, feet, arms, legs, scalp, neck, shoulders, groin, everywhere really. A few times, it has been so bad it made me cry or yell out loud. There is no visible redness or rash associated with these symptoms.

I have never noticed any pattern, except it seems to have started about seven or eight years ago or so. I think I might be allergic to chlorine or other additives in tap water and shower water. I am 30 years old this year. -Wade, in Louisiana

anon101810
Post 11

I develop red spots on arms and legs whenever i go swimming. the dermatologist could not diagnose this problem. It does not happen when i swim in a pool with fresh water and chlorine. Anybody know why?

marniesinger
Post 10

If you are interested in finding an online community of fellow sufferers with aquagenic pruritus, you may be able to find us on the web.

anon83539
Post 7

it is the first time in my life i found out on the internet that I'm not the only person having itchy skin when i bathe.

i live in south africa and I've been

looking for help, for many times the doctors don't seem to understand the type and cause of this allergy.

It led me to depression and thinking about suicide because i could not hope as i thought I'm the only one who suffers from this itch when i bathe. but is there any cure for it?

anon62382
Post 6

I am 40 and have had this condition for as long as I can remember. My condition only gets worse if I bath in cold or lukewarm water. It attacks my arms things and backside.

As I get older, these itches are getting worse, sometimes wearing a short sleeved top in humid temperatures causes the itch. My itch lasts about 10 minutes.

I love swimming but this has now become impossible due to the itching.

michelle1965
Post 4

anon5770, do you know where I can read about other peoples' experience and treatment of aquagenic pruritus? Thanks

anon59883
Post 3

I have had two dermatologists suggest that I have aquagenic pruritus. I have intense itching after bathing or showering with a rash.

I have been tested for contact dermatitis allergies and I avoid several suspect ingredients, so I don' t think it's the soap or lotion I use. Plus, I have a rash on my upper back where I cannot reach to wash and I have been washing my hair separately in the sink.

So I am interested in any treatments from anon57770. I used to swim but have not in three months because of my itchy skin.

marniesinger
Post 2

I have had aquagenic pruritus for about 23 years, and I can tell you that it is *not* an allergy; it is a sensitivity. There is no risk of anaphylactic shock. The risk is that the intractable screaming itch may lead a person to be depressed and suicidal. Finding others who have this condition can be a lifesaver.

anon57770
Post 1

I am moderator of a list of over 800 people worldwide who have aquagenic pruritus.

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