When I was about ten, I started having itching attacks after my skin became wet. After every shower or bath, I would itch all over — mainly my arms and legs. I would lie on my bed, practically clawing at myself trying to make it stop. Online research suggested aquagenic urticaria, or water reactant hives, but I had no marks on my skin. I eventually discovered the name for this affliction was aquagenic pruritis. It is an awful skin condition that affects many.
I didn’t want to tell my parents. I didn’t think they would believe that I was allergic to water. Instead, I would go days without bathing. My mother would eventually insist that I wash my hair, but I delayed as long as I could. After my bath, I would spend up to an hour writhing on my bed, practically clawing at my skin. I always loved going swimming, but now I had to pay the price if I wanted to enjoy that.
Eventually my mother found out. She insisted to my father that we see a doctor, but he refused. He thought perhaps we had hard water, but he also has sensitive skin and wasn’t having any issues. He didn’t believe me, so I had to deal with it on my own. I eventually learned not to scratch, which would make it worse, and other ways of lessening the ordeal.
The attacks came nearly every time I got wet for so long. My skin would itch like crazy, mostly my limbs. Looking at my skin, though, you’d have no idea anything was wrong. There were no marks of any kind, not bumps, not a rash, not even redness to indicate a problem. It was invisible to everyone else. It baffled me and my family.
I also would sometimes have nighttime itching in my thighs. I would wake with my thighs itching as though I’d just had a shower. Nothing could make it stop. I’d have to stay awake until the itching subsided, which would take 2-3 hours. Then I’d be tired at school the next day. I later learned that many with aquagenic pruritis have the same problem.
Suddenly, it stopped. I could bathe, shower, and swim again. Every now and then the condition would return. Sometimes it was because of a change in the water, like if we traveled or moved. Other times there was no apparent reason whatsoever for the relapse. The attacks would sometimes recur a single time, and other times they would affect me for several weeks before fading.
When I was 16, I was old enough to see a doctor by myself. The attacks had suddenly started again, so that showering was my worst fear yet again. The doctor suggested that I may have aquagenic urticaria. I didn’t believe him, because while my condition was water reactant, I never got any hives. He prescribed me Zyrtec, and as long as I took it an hour in advance, I had no problems showering. I eventually ran out, and they wouldn’t give me anymore.
The attacks went back to coming and going, like before. I dreaded sudden rainstorms, and I never went swimming with my friends. I was afraid of getting wet and having an attack. What would they found out, saw me dealing with an attack? For a long time I never told anyone why I rarely swam, tried to avoid showering at sleepovers, and seemed scared to death of getting caught in the rain.
I did confide in two people. Once, when a friend wanted me to come into the rain, I told him why I could not. His response was “That explains a lot!” I told another friend at a sleepover. After we went swimming, I suddenly had an attack. She gently stroked my legs as I tried not to scratch. That took my mind off of the attack and calmed the itching.
The attacks went away again. They did not return until I was an adult, married and pregnant. I saw a doctor again, who insisted that I just had dry skin. He told me to use some lotion. I knew that wouldn’t work; lotion often made it worse. I’ve had itchy skin as a result of dryness before. It feels like anything touching my skin is sandpaper, and lotion cures it.
This sensation, however, is very different. It is a creepy-crawly sort of feeling that ebbs and fades, but consumes me entirely. Dry skin is a rough sort of itch, like you’re rubbing against something prickly. Lotion solves that problem. I’ve dealt with itching because of exposure to salt and chlorine. Rinsing with pure water stops that. These attacks don’t have a magic cure, and they don’t feel like anything else. They are immobilizing, because the sensation is so strong and so overwhelming.
When my son was a toddler, the attacks came back again. He needed me, but I couldn’t take care of him because of the intense itching after bathtime. I tried one last time to get a diagnosis and got lucky. The doctor prescribed me an antihistamine. He recognized the condition as aquagenic pruritis, because he once had suffered from it. He said that people often grow out of it. It is unclear just what causes the condition, whether it’s something in the water, the sensation the water causes on the skin, or the washing away of dead skin cells.
Finally I knew what was wrong with me. I managed to find a support group where they shared tips. I learned that some of what worked for me had also worked for them. They had thought of things that I had not, and finding them equipped me even better to deal with the attacks. I even learned some ways to help prevent them from coming full-on.
The journey wasn’t over there. I’m still on it! My condition has gone dormant–for now. It didn’t even return with my second pregnancy. I haven’t had to take any medication for a while. I still experience night time itching occasionally, and I often have mild attacks after swimming. I have to take baths, because showers almost inevitably bring an attack. I’ve come a long way since I was a confused ten year-old girl, scratching at skin that itched relentlessly. Now I am living a normal life with aquagenic pruritis.