A teenager who is allergic to water says she can’t get wet without her skin breaking out in painful red hives that feel like ‘being doused with gasoline and set on fire’.
Sadie Tessmer, 14, from Buffalo, Missouri, began experiencing aquagenic urticaria late last year when her skin turned red and became painful after showers.
She had always loved to go swimming, paddle at the beach and even get sweaty during soccer practice. But the allergy has put an end to these activies, with Sadie saying she is now not even able to cry without the angry red rashes erupting.
Since the diagnosis in May, the teenager has dropped soccer and even left school — which was insisting on physical education classes — because exercise makes her sweat, triggering symptoms. This summer she has been forced to stay home and avoid the outdoors and beach in case the hot and humid weather makes her sweat.
Sadie is still able to drink water, but must do it through a straw because if it touches her lips — like when she drinks out a bottle — her skin breaks out into a rash.
An allergy to water is extremely rare, with only about 100 people — or less than one-in-230 million — thought to be affected worldwide. There is no cure, and experts warn flare-ups could be fatal if they become too severe.
Sadie Tessmer, 14, from Buffalo, Missouri, breaks out in painful red hives whenver she touches water. Above her legs are shown in the bath-tub when she is having an allergic reaction to water
Sadie said she was very surprised to get the diagnosis, and had previously enjoyed swimming and playing soccer without any allergic reactions
Shown above are hives that appeared on her legs after they touched water. Her mother is now keeping her home to limit sweating, which can also trigger the flare-ups
Sadie previously had no issues with water and loved nothing more than swimming, playing soccer or going to the beach until late 2019.
Describing how it feels when she touches water now, Sadie said: ‘At times, it feels like someone is pouring gasoline 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 that I will start crying and that makes it worse because I’m allergic to my own tears which stresses me out.
WHAT IS AQUAGENIC 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 sufferers 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 water is removed, the rash usually fades within 30-to-60 minutes.
Aquagenic urticaria’s cause 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.
Due to the condition’s rarity, little is known about how best to treat it.
Therapies typically include 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 terrifying.’
When Sadie’s skin first started turning red after showers, her mother thought it was because the water was too hot — and even joked she ‘may be allergic’ to getting washes.
The 14-year-old has three siblings — Bradley, 17, and sisters Kasie, 15, and Leslie, 12 — none of whom had any problems with water previously.
Amber Sallee, 37, took her daughter to see a dermatologist in May 2022 fearing the symptoms would get worse.
At the appointment doctors used a water challenge test to diagnose the rare condition. This involves applying a cloth dampened 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 real, 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 clear later in life.
Her mother has taken her out of school too so that she doesn’t have to do PE, which triggers sweat.
She is being kept in with the air-conditioning due to concerns the warm, moist air in Missouri could lead to her body sweating, causing a flare-up.
Sadie says she feels ‘incredibly isolated’ — after being unable to go outside during the summer due to the hot and humid weather that triggers sweat.
She has also been withdrawn from school because they have to do PE lessons, which make her sweat.
‘It makes me feel super lonely because I feel like I am the only person who has it,’ Sadie said.
Fewer than 100 cases of the allergy have ever been recorded, with most appearing around the teenage years — disrupting a crucial period of social development.
Its cause is unknown, but it is thought the condition may be due to a substance in water that triggers an immune response. Most cases occur randomly with no family history of the disorder.
Due to the condition’s rarity, little is known about how best to treat it. Therapies typically include antihistamines, UV light treatments, steroids and creams that act as a barrier, and bathing in sodium bicarbonate.
Shown above are hives that appeared on her hand due to the water allergy. She now carries around two EpiPens for use if she has a flare-up
Her arm is shown above in the bathroom after it had contact with water. It has turned red
‘Even going for a walk makes me feel like I’m going to pass out because I become nauseous when I start sweating, so it makes me worry about what the future will hold for me,’ Sadie described.
‘I keep thinking my life is over. I wanted to be in the military my whole life, and I found out I can’t do that anymore because I can’t exercise, which was devastating.’
Sadie said her summer was ‘incredibly lonely’ because she was not able to head to the beach with her friends, over fears the hot weather could cause her to sweat
Sallee, a nursing assistant, says she is heartbroken for her daughter and spends every day trying to find a cure for her condition in the hope Sadie can one day lead a normal life.
She said: ‘It’s really heart-breaking as a parent knowing there is nothing you can do.
‘She comes out the shower bright red 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 heatwaves, so it gets pretty intense and I’m so worried.’
She added: ‘When winter comes, I love dragging my children out into the snow but we can’t even do that.
‘I am just hoping more research is done, just to make sure she can live a full life, doing all the things she wants to.’