Water is the universal solvent – and an absolute necessary to sustain human, animal, and plant life. Despite this, some unfortunate people experience some decidedly unpleasant symptoms when water touches their skin – even water that’s filtered and free of pollutants. Can you be allergic to water?
Can You Be Allergic to Water?
Surprisingly, you can be allergic to water. In the medical world, an allergy to water is called aquagenic urticaria. Urticaria simply means hives, which is one of the symptoms people who are allergic to water experience when water touches their skin. Needless to say, a water allergy can be inconvenient for those unlucky souls who have one.
What Causes a Water Allergy?
Aquagenic urticaria is a type of physical allergy. In the world of allergies, it’s less common for people to be allergic to physical stimuli, but allergies to heat, cold, sunlight, and exercise have all been described in the medical literature. These allergies usually start in early adulthood and last for many years – sometimes disappearing on their own. Fortunately, most types of physical allergies, such as aquagenic urticaria are rare.
What Does It Feel Like to Be Allergic to Water?
A person with aquagenic urticaria experiences a reaction when water directly touches their skin, but they can also have throat discomfort or itching even when they drink a glass of water. Taking a shower can be painful too as water hitting the skin causes itching, burning, and hives. Needless to say, people with a water allergy keep their showers very short ‘” and they may be sore or itchy for several hours afterward. It’s not just water from the spigot that causes a reaction either. Sweat and saliva can trigger and allergic response in people with aquagenic urticaria.
How Do You Treat a Water Allergy?
The mainstay of treatment for a water allergy is antihistamines. Of course, staying out of water is a good idea too. You won’t find many swimmers with aquagenic urticaria. Some people find that using a capsaicin-based cream soothes some of the itching and skin discomfort that goes along with exposure to water. Some cases of water allergy have responded to treatment with ultraviolet light.
Can You Be Allergic to Water: The Bottom Line?
It’s not common, but you can be allergic to water – and to heat, cold, sunlight, and exercise. It just goes to show the complexity of the human body.
Cutis. 1992 Oct;50(4):283-4.
Merck Manual. Eighteenth edition. 2006.