A university student is so allergic to water she can only shower twice a month, and breaks out in a painful rash whenever she cries, sweats or washes.
Tessa Hansen-Smith, 21, has Aquagenic urticaria, an extremely rare condition which is thought to affect fewer than 100 people worldwide and which prevents those who suffer with it from playing any sports or exercising.
Within just minutes of coming into contact with water, the 21-year-old breaks out in a rash, suffers migraines and develops a fever. Because of this, she can’t even walk around her university campus in case she sweats and so has to be transported via a shuttle.
Tessa, from California, was diagnosed with the condition at the age of 10 by her mother, who is a doctor. Her diagnosis means she finds it uncomfortable to take even a sip of water.
She first showed signs of the condition when she was eight years old, when bathing and showering caused her to break out in a rash. Her parents initially assumed this was caused by an allergic reaction to certain soaps and shampoos, but this was ruled out when her symptoms persisted.
They realised it was the rare condition after researching her symptoms online, with her mum having been her primary care doctor ever since. ‘I’m really lucky because my mum is a family medicine doctor,’ Tessa explained.
Initially, the student would take an allergy tablet to get rid of the rashes. However, that no longer works for her as she said Aquagenic urticaria gets worse with age.
The 21-year-old explained:
It’s a really difficult condition to have as I’m even allergic to my own tears, saliva and sweat. I’m really prone to heat exhaustion and have to avoid physical activity.
I even have to be shuttled around my campus at college because otherwise I show up to my class with a fever, migraine and rashes making it really difficult to concentrate.
I suffer with a lot of muscle fatigue and nausea too; the sickness is usually caused by me eating something with a lot of water in, foods like some fruits and vegetables. Even drinking water can cause cuts on my tongue.
Having Aquagenic urticaria can be a mental game at times – it’s hard to take so many tablets everyday knowing that it’s not actually ever going to stop.
I’m frequently reminded that there’s no cure to Aquagenic urticaria and that I’ll never really be fully better, which is definitely a difficult thing to hear sometimes.
Due to the rarity of the condition, there is very limited data on the effectiveness of individual treatment for sufferers. Having previously had to take 12 antihistamine tablets a day, Tessa now takes nine in the hope of keeping her symptoms at bay.
However, despite the daily challenges she faces, the student is determined not to let her condition completely control her life and says she is ‘determined’ to be independent – hence she left her home town for college.
She’s currently taking things one day at a time as ‘some days are better than others’, with Tessa stating: ‘If I’m able to see my friends and loved ones without having to leave early due to feeling sick, or make it to all my classes in one day, I see that as a win in my book.’
The 21-year-old has since set up an Instagram page to raise awareness of her condition and to encourage people to be kind to others as you never know if they’re fighting an invisible disability.
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A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).