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Teen girl, 14, develops allergy to WATER that makes getting wet feel like ‘being set on fire’

A teenager allergic to water says she can’t get wet without her skin breaking out in painful red hives that feel like ‘being doused in petrol and set on fire’.

Sadie Tessmer, 14, of Buffalo, Missouri, began experiencing aquagenic urticaria late last year when her skin turned red and became painful after showers.

She had always loved swimming, paddling at the beach and even getting sweaty during soccer practice. But the allergy has put a stop to those activities and Sadie said she is now unable to even cry without the angry red rash breaking out.

Since the diagnosis in May, the teenager has dropped soccer and even left school – which insisted on PE classes – because exercise makes her sweat and trigger symptoms. This summer she has been forced to stay at home and avoid the outdoors and the beach if the hot and humid weather makes her sweat.

Sadie is still able to drink water, but must do so through a straw because if it touches her lips — like when she drinks from a bottle — her skin breaks out in a rash.

An allergy to water is extremely rare, with only around 100 people – or less than one in 230 million – thought to be affected worldwide. There is no cure, and experts warn that flare-ups can be fatal if they become too severe.

Sadie Tessmer, 14, of Buffalo, Missouri, breaks out in painful red hives every time she touches the water.  Above her legs are shown in the bathtub when she has an allergic reaction to water
Sadie Tessmer, 14, of Buffalo, Missouri, breaks out in painful red hives every time she touches the water.  Above her legs are shown in the bathtub when she has an allergic reaction to water

Sadie Tessmer, 14, of Buffalo, Missouri, breaks out in painful red hives every time she touches the water. Above her legs are shown in the bathtub when she has an allergic reaction to water

Sadie said she was very surprised to receive the diagnosis and had previously enjoyed swimming and playing football without any allergic reactions
Sadie said she was very surprised to receive the diagnosis and had previously enjoyed swimming and playing football without any allergic reactions

Sadie said she was very surprised to receive the diagnosis and had previously enjoyed swimming and playing football without any allergic reactions

Hives on the leg due to the water allergy
Hives on the leg due to the water allergy
Hives on the leg due to the water allergy
Hives on the leg due to the water allergy

Shown above are hives that appeared on her legs after they touched the water. Her mother now keeps her home to limit the sweating, which can also trigger flare-ups

Sadie previously had no problems with water and loved nothing more than swimming, playing soccer or going to the beach until the end of 2019.

Sadie described how it feels when she touches the water now, saying: ‘Sometimes it feels like someone is pouring petrol on my body and setting me on fire and it itches.

‘I always get a reaction when I shower or wash my hands, or even cry or sweat.

‘It will hurt so much I’ll start crying and that makes it worse because I’m allergic to my own tears, which stresses me out.

WHAT IS AQUAGEN URTICARIA?

Aquagenic urticaria causes sufferers to break out in hives after their skin comes into contact with water.

There are between 50 and 100 known cases worldwide.

Women are more likely to experience symptoms, which typically start around puberty.

The hives are usually red and 1-3mm across. They typically appear on the neck, chest and arms.

Some may also experience itching.

Once the water is removed, the rash usually disappears within 30 to 60 minutes.

The cause of Aquagen urticaria is unclear, but may be due to a substance in water that triggers an immune response.

Most cases occur randomly with no family history of the disorder.

Because of the rarity of the condition, little is known about how best to treat it.

Therapy typically includes antihistamines, UV light treatments, steroids, creams that act as a barrier, and bathing in sodium bicarbonate.

Source: National Institutes of Health

‘I try to avoid getting water on my face or neck because I don’t want to go into anaphylactic shock. I have EpiPens, but it’s scary.’

When Sadie’s skin first started turning red after showering, her mother thought it was because the water was too hot – and even joked that she ‘may be allergic’ to being washed.

The 14-year-old has three siblings – Bradley, 17, and sisters Kasie, 15, and Leslie, 12 – none of whom had previous problems with water.

Amber Sallee, 37, took her daughter to a dermatologist in May 2022, fearing the symptoms would worsen.

At the appointment, doctors used a water challenge test to diagnose the rare condition. This involves applying a cloth moistened with room temperature water to the skin for 20 minutes to see if the patient develops hives.

Sadie’s skin suddenly reacted with hives within just 30 seconds.

When she was diagnosed, Sadie said: ‘It just didn’t seem right, I didn’t think you could be allergic to water. If someone told me they were, I would think they were lying. I would take a shower to show myself it’s not real and it just makes me more upset.’

She has now been prescribed antihistamines and shots to help reduce the flare-ups caused by water, but it is not clear whether the condition will go away later in life.

Her mother has also taken her out of school so she doesn’t have to do gymnastics, which triggers a sweat.

She is kept inside with the air conditioning because of concerns that the hot, humid Missouri air could cause her body to sweat, which could cause a flare-up.

Sadie says she feels ‘incredibly isolated’ – after being unable to go outside during the summer due to the sweat-inducing hot and humid weather.

She has also been withdrawn from school because they have to do PE lessons, which makes her sweat.

“It makes me feel super lonely because I feel like I’m the only person who has it,” Sadie said.

Fewer than 100 cases of the allergy have ever been recorded, most of which appeared around the teenage years – disrupting a crucial period of social development.

Its cause is unknown, but it is thought that the condition may be caused by a substance in water that triggers an immune response. Most cases occur randomly with no family history of the disorder.

Because of the rarity of the condition, little is known about how best to treat it. Therapy typically includes antihistamines, UV light treatments, steroids and creams that act as a barrier, and bathing in sodium bicarbonate.

Shown above is hives that appeared on her hand due to the water allergy.  She now carries about two EpiPens to use if she has a flare-up
Shown above is hives that appeared on her hand due to the water allergy.  She now carries about two EpiPens to use if she has a flare-up

Shown above is hives that appeared on her hand due to the water allergy. She now carries about two EpiPens to use if she has a flare-up

Her arm is shown above in the bathroom after it made contact with water.  It has turned red
Her arm is shown above in the bathroom after it made contact with water.  It has turned red

Her arm is shown above in the bathroom after it made contact with water. It has turned red

“Even going for a walk makes me feel like I’m going to pass out because I get nauseous when I start sweating, so it makes me worry about what the future holds,” Sadie described.

‘I keep thinking my life is over. I wanted to be in the military all my life and I found I can’t anymore because I can’t train, which was devastating.’

1663705056 793 Teen girl 14 develops allergy to WATER that makes getting
1663705056 793 Teen girl 14 develops allergy to WATER that makes getting

Sadie said her summer was “incredibly lonely” because she wasn’t able to go to the beach with her friends because she feared the hot weather might make her sweat

Sallee, a nurse, says she is devastated for her daughter and spends every day trying to find a cure for her condition in the hope that Sadie can one day live a normal life.

She said: ‘It’s really heartbreaking as a parent to know there’s nothing you can do.

‘She comes out of the shower pink and crying and I have to try not to cry or she’ll cry even more.

‘We live in a very hot and humid area and there are heat waves so it gets quite intense and I’m so worried.’

She added: ‘When winter comes I love to drag my kids out into the snow but we can’t even do that.

“I just hope more research is done, just to make sure she can live a full life and do all the things she wants to.”

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