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What Is Aquagenic Pruritus?

Humid air causes severe itching for those with aquagenic pruritus.
Creams with capsaicin, a chemical that gives red peppers their heat, may help relieve the pain of aquagenic pruritus.
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  • Written By: T. Broderick
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2014
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Aquagenic pruritus is a skin disease that causes intense itching when the skin comes into contact with moisture. The disease is easily diagnosed because of its unique symptoms. The exact cause is unknown, but the chances of developing aquagenic pruritus increase if one has polycythemia. Though non-life threatening, the condition can greatly decrease one's quality of life. As there is no cure, only palliative treatments exist.

Aquagenic pruritus presents as an extreme, prickling itching that begins almost immediately after one comes into contact with either water or very humid air. There is no accompanying rash or other visible skin irritation. An episode can last for more than an hour and the condition can afflict an individual for years at a time before disappearing. Though these symptoms make diagnosis an easy task, there is still a debate over the exact cause of the disease.

Finding the exact cause of aquagenic pruritus is hindered by the fact that it not discriminate between the sexes and races. Also, the disease is sometimes, but not always, a symptom of polycyhthemia, a blood disorder where the number of red blood cells is much higher than normal. The link between polychythemia and aquagenic pruritus has led many doctors to believe that the pruritus is not a disease but a symptom of many diseases that affect the skin. The medical community is still years away from reaching any conclusion.

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Aquagenic pruritus has the potential to severely lower one's quality of life. A person comes into contact with water countless times a day. If one lives in a humid climate, moisture is always coming into contact with the skin. Though the intensity of itching does not increase with prolonged contact with water, the constant sensation over time can cause psychological damage. Before the disease was classified, people would suffer in silence for years; the lack of physical symptoms led many doctors to say that nothing was wrong.

With the medical community still knowing so little about aquagenic pruritus, there is no standard medical treatment or cure. The treatments that do exist are palliative home remedies; none are guaranteed to end symptoms. Some patients find relief with capsaicin cream, while others limit symptoms by drying off as quickly as possible after showering or washing one's hands. Over-the-counter antihistamines have also shown promise in preventing symptoms. An individual suffering from aquagenic pruritus many need to try many of these remedies before finding the right combination that works for him or her.

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