Idaho Woman With Extremely Rare Allergy To Water Can’t Shower
A young woman from Idaho with an extremely rare allergy has been left unable to shower everyday because of the extreme pain she suffers after water touches her skin.
23-year-old Rachael Fetter from Rathdrum suffers from aquagenic urticaria, which is an allergy to a substance most of us use every single day: water.
The veterinary technician was diagnosed with this extremely unusual allergy in July 2019, after painful hives began developing on her skin whenever she washed her hands, showered or got rained on.
Rachael even finds herself breaking out in rashes when she gets too sweaty, or when she drinks more than half a cup of water (120ml) at a time. If she drinks more than this, then she will ‘throw it up or feel extremely sick to my stomach’.
On account of her allergy, which affects about 50 people out of the entire human population, Rachael is only able to shower twice a week, as the painful hives and burning sensation of getting her skin wet can last for days on end.
According to Rachael:
I first began having bad reactions to water when I was 18. I remember taking a shower, and as I was drying off I noticed a rash.
I thought it was just the soap that I was using, so I tried a different brand. But then every time I took a shower, I was getting hives.
The pain got worse over time and soon I was ending up in tears each time. I only began seeing doctors about my skin at the start of 2019.
Rachael consulted her primary physician, as well as a dermatologist and an allergist to get answers. Local doctors conducted skin biopsies and believed it to be aquagenic urticaria, however they were initially not sure and so attempted to treat Rachael’s symptoms.
After further testing at the Mayo clinic, it was confirmed that Rachael did indeed have aquagenic urticaria. By this point, she wasn’t shocked, as she already knew her symptoms were a reaction to water.
I was relieved that I had an answer and to know I was not alone. There are so few people that have the condition that it can be very isolating.
The longer the water touches Rachael’s skin, the worse the resulting burns will be. Although the marks are visible for just a few hours, the burning sensation can last for days.
This, of course, impacts upon her career as a veterinary technician, with her job often requiring her to wash her hands or come into contact with water while caring for animals:
Due to the added exposure a very large rash occurs on my hands which numerous people have noticed and commented about.
In order to manage her condition, Rachael needs to plan for her showers ahead of time, and has to take pain medication in advance so it has time to work.
According to Rachael:
I shower twice a week, mainly just to wash my hair. I make it as fast as possible, usually five minutes max.
It doesn’t matter if it’s hot or cold water, but most of my showers are with cold water, because hot water makes things worse.
I get in and get out, and as soon as water huts my skin it feels like I’m being burnt. When I’m done I have to sit down due to hives on the bottom of my feet.
Interestingly, IV fluids don’t bother Rachael at all, and she very much enjoys going to get fluids as it’s so difficult for her to drink water on her own.
Rachael now wants to share her story to help raise awareness about aquagenic urticaria, with the hope of helping those suffering from the condition to feel less alone.
Aquagenic urticaria has impacted my life. I can’t go swimming or get wet in the rain. I get frustrated with my body but I know I’m trying my best.
I want people to know water allergy is a real thing and it affects my life on a daily basis. I hope one day there will be a cure. Until then I’ll continue to take medications and stay as dry as possible.
Aquagenic urticaria affects just one in every 230 million people on Earth. The exact trigger behind the condition continues to perplex practitioners.
However, many experts believe the rashes are caused by histamines, which are released by mast cells in the skin when reactions occur in the body. In this instance, this is when skin makes contact with water, with the release of histamines causing welts and rashes to appear.
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