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.
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 an allergy 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.