A young mother who became allergic to water after giving birth has described how the rare condition has turned her life into a ‘nightmare’.
Six weeks after having her daughter, Cherelle Farrugia found that she got a painful rash every time she had a shower.
It took doctors three months to diagnose her with aquagenic urticaria, a rare condition that leads to hives – an outbreak of sore, itchy blisters – after the skin comes into contact with water.
As a result, the college student is unable to take her daughter Willow swimming and even has to cover her skin completely when it rains. There is no cure for the severe allergy, which is thought to have affected fewer than 35 people worldwide.
Farrugia, 25, had Willow in November but soon began to find washing unbearably uncomfortable. Doctors believe her condition is linked to changes in her hormones brought on by childbirth.
Farrugia, a student from Cardiff, said: ‘Six weeks after having my daughter I realised that every time I got out of the shower my skin would be really itchy.
‘I initially thought it must be caused by the soap I was using. Then I thought it was the temperature of the water. I tried all different temperatures – cold, hot, lukewarm and body temperature – but my body reacted to all of them.
‘I tried the swimming pool, bottled water and filtered water. To my disbelief, I reacted again.
‘I didn’t think it could possibly be a water allergy. I’d never heard of such a thing. The first doctor I saw told me it was impossible, but the second doctor had heard of it and referred me to an allergist.’
The condition leaves Farrugia in discomfort for some time after she washes, with the hives taking up to an hour to subside. It is also complicated by the fact that she has obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which makes her want to wash all the time.
In addition, doctors warned her that the allergy could trigger anaphylactic shock – an extreme, often life-threatening reaction. At the moment, she can drink water without harm because it does not affect her internally. But she added: ‘The condition tends to be degenerative, so one day I may not be able to drink it either.’
Farrugia, who is training to be a mental health councillor, had post-natal depression after Willow’s birth. She added: ‘It was horrific and hit me out of nowhere. I was borderline suicidal.
‘I couldn’t get out of bed, I couldn’t leave the house, and I was convinced something was going to happen to my daughter. I wouldn’t let anyone hold her.
‘But I am very fortunate to be super close to my mum and dad, and my partner is amazing.’ Despite her condition, Miss Farrugia showers every day, but is strict about how long she stays under the water.
She said: ‘I have OCD, so this condition is a nightmare for me as I always want to be clean. I make sure I dry the water off my skin really quickly.
‘I always make sure there’s someone in the house with me when I shower as I’ve been told I could go into anaphylactic shock.
‘I couldn’t believe my bad luck when I read there are only about 35 people with this condition.
‘I already suffer with mental health issues and terrible health anxiety, and this condition just made everything so much worse.’