About the Author

Avgi Lilli
Publications´ officer, Phd student at Kapodistrian University of Athens ()

I was born on a cold winter night 31 years ago. I have studied Classics (BA) and obtain an MA degree in Modern Greek Philology, comparative literature and myth in poetry in particular. My current PhD studies lie on polyphonic novel in postwar Greek literature. I have worked in a daily newspaper for 3 years (2001-2003). After that I have worked as a Greek teacher for all levels for 5 years. For the last 5 years I have been writing the travel column in a free press newspaper and I am currently working as a publications' officer in the House of Representatives, the parliament of the Republic of Cyprus. My hobbies are writing and reading, literature, art, music, cinema, swimming and cycling. I speak Greek, Bulgarian and English.

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The rare and unfortunate ‘‘Aquagenic urticaria’’

Published 09th February 2011 - 19 comments - 20511 views -

When I was about 12 a relative of a good friend of my mother had allergy to water and it seemed to me so out-of-this-world! How does she bathe? What does she drink? And -oh, my God!- how can she not swim in our glorious seas? These would be the spontanious questions of a child, even of an adult.

Aquagenic urticaria, also known as water urticaria and aquagenous urticaria, is a rare form of allergy to water. At this rare cases contact with water causes itcing and burning of the skin. Showers may result in severely dry eyes and soreness. At most extreme cases shortness of breath or swelling in the throat can occur when drinking water. The symptoms persist for 10–120 minutes. Allergic reaction may appear even if there is a contact with some other person´s sweat or tears. Tears on one's face can also cause pain. These people must be very cautious when it rains, always carry an umbrella and of course they suffer more if they live in humid environment.

The most recent case reported s that of Michaela Dutton, 23, from UK. She developed the allergy a few days after she gave birth to her son, about 5 years ago. She actually is one of the 30 people around the world (one in 230 million) who are diagnosed with Aquagenic urticaria. She has all the symptoms mentioned above and she can only tolerate Diet Coke. She cannot even eat fruit. To keep herself clean, she has a 10 minute shower once a week gets through with quick wipedowns the rest of the time. One of the things that irritates her most is that she cannot follow a full mother´s routine like drinking water from the same glass, give her child a bath, teach him how to swim or wipe his tears away. She can only hug her son for not more than 10 minutes and when they both are fully dressed. That is why she says that she feels like ‘a prisoner in her own body’.

An urticaria specialist, said that ‘childbirth is an interesting time in terms of urticaria. Some patients get better, others fall ill with the condition at this time.’ The exact triggers for the condition remain a mystery. However many specialists believe that the rashes are caused by histamines -or chemicals- released by mast cells in the skin when skin makes contact with water. Others believe that it could be due to a toxic response when water touches the skin, or to an extreme sensitivity to ions in the water. There is no known treatment for Aquagenic urticaria. Dermatologists recommend staying out of water as much as possible, taking short showers, staying cool, and avoiding rain help to ease symptoms.

Antihistamine drugs or steroids usually provide some relief for the pain caused by the welts, but this does not cure aquagenic urticaria. Ultra Violet light therapy treatment of the mast cells, in an effort to make them more resilient to water and therefore less likely to release histamine in sufferers of the condition, is another experimental treatment. Ms Dutton has tried both therapies with no success. According to the British Society for Allergy and Clinical Immunology, urticaria can affect one in five of the population at sometime in their lives.


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