An ex lifeguard has told of how a rare water allergy means showering, sweating and even crying can cause red welts to spring up all over her skin.
For Candice Dent, simple household tasks like washing up can be a nightmare.
And getting caught in a rain storm – something most people consider nothing more than a mild annoyance – can trigger an outbreak of hives.
The 35-year-old suffers from aquagenic urticaria, a rare condition which sees an often painful rash spread over the body if the skin comes into contact with water.
On top of this, she also has dermatographia, meaning her skin becomes itchy and swollen when touched – which she said is far harder to live with.
“I’ve learned to live with the water allergy. I still have to shower, to workout and sweat, to run errands in the rain – I don’t let it rule my life,” said Dent, of Kentucky, USA.
“But the touch allergy has been horrible. Plus, it plays off the water allergy and makes things a thousand times worse. It’s a vicious cycle.”
Though her touch allergy was only diagnosed in February 2016, Dent has battled her water allergy for almost two decades.
Working as a lifeguard and swim instructor at the time, she noticed she’d break out in welts whenever she went in the water.
At first, doctors told her it was a chlorine allergy and instructed her to thoroughly shower every time she’d been in the pool.
But this made no difference, and before long the hives would also spring up if she sweated or got caught in the rain.
“After documenting everything that caused a flare up, I went back to my doctor and he said, ‘It sounds like you’re allergic to water, but that’s crazy,’” she said.
“Back then, aquagenic urticaria wasn’t even heard of. I only got my official diagnosis in February this year.”
Until recently, Dent, who is now a pharmacist technician, worked as a pre-school teacher – and there have been times when the job triggered her allergies.
She recalled one occasion where a child cried on her arm, and the tears triggered a rash.
Over the years, however, she has grown used to hive outbreaks being a part of her daily life.
She continued: “Most people don’t believe me, and I get mocking questions like, ‘If you’re allergic to water, how are you still alive?’
“It’s a skin allergy, not a food allergy, so I can still drink it – although drinking hard water can make my throat burn.
“People also ask how I bathe, and I always say that unless they have a very odd way of doing things, the same way as them. The only difference is that I get hives every time, but I can’t not shower.”
Thankfully, the skin on Dent’s face is less affected by her water allergy, so she can still be kissed by her husband David.
Usually, her flare ups happen within minutes of being exposed to water, and she said sweat triggers the worst reaction.
Unfortunately, antihistamines are fairly ineffective, meaning all she can do when she has a break out is wait for the agonisingly itchy hives to disappear.
She has to resist the urge to scratch, as her touch allergy means this exacerbates the problem.
Her touch allergy also means she cannot wear certain things, such as leggings, as they are too tight and will leave huge welts down her legs.
She’ll also find marks where her waistband, watch and socks have been rubbing against her skin.
Even sleeping on a pillowcase with wrinkles in, or resting her hands against her face can leave a red rash.
Now, Dent is scouring the internet to try and find other people out there battling the same rare combination of conditions as her.
“I can’t be the only one,” she said.
“I think the conditions are so rare that we’re not likely to see much improvement in treatment options, but I’m okay with that.
“There are people dealing with far worse. I watched my dad Jim die of cancer. He suffered – I just itch.”