Health Stories

I’m allergic to water

Mum Alex talks about her one in 70 million condition

Even a drop of water leaves Alex with an unimaginable rash.

Here, Alex Mackay 22, from Brisbane, shares her story in her own words.

As I stepped out of the shower and dried myself off, I noticed tiny red bumps appearing all over my stomach.

They felt itchy, so I scratched away at them, unable to stop.

I was 11 and called out to my mum, Vanessa.

‘Mum, I’ve got a rash from the shower,’ I said.

‘That’s weird love, maybe it’s from the soap,’ she said.

She told me to try a different one next time,
but it was the first of countless rashes.

Over the next few years,
I visited various doctors trying to work out what was going on.

It seemed to appear whenever I showered.

We thought it might be the tap water, but that was ruled out when I got caught in the rain and the rash returned.

And when I swam in the ocean, it would also crop up.

Blood tests revealed my white blood cell count was high, which indicated an allergy.

Eventually, when I was 14, I was diagnosed with aquagenic urticaria.

It’s a rare condition that meant I was allergic to water.

‘How will I wash?’ I asked my doctor.

‘I’ll prescribe you antihistamine to help the rash,’ he said.

But they didn’t work.

Alex Mackay's water allergy
For years I hid away

Even sweating on a summer’s day caused the same itchy, red spots.

They usually lasted an hour or so before fading.

But they were always bright red and unbearably itchy.

I tried heaps of lotions and potions to cure it, but nothing worked.

Drinking water was fine, but even just a drop on my skin caused a flare up.

Throughout my teens, I was so embarrassed by my allergy.

I turned down sleepovers because I didn’t want to shower in the morning.

And on hot sunny days, I’d stay inside, shunning the beach and trying not to sweat.

I hated the thought of people seeing my red, raw skin.

‘Darl’ you can’t live like this forever. Get out there!’ Mum encouraged.

When I was 17, I decided Mum was right and I stopped caring what people thought.

It was time to enjoy life.

I’d head to the beach with mates and cool down in the water.

People would stare at my rashes, but I brushed it off.

However, the itching remained.

Sometimes I’d scratch so hard that my skin would start to bleed.

Then, when I was 18, it suddenly stopped.

‘I must have grown out of it,’ I said to Mum.

Around six weeks later, I found out I was pregnant.

Though I was in a relationship, we hadn’t been planning a baby.

Alex Mackay's reaction to water
The itch is terrible

But we were very excited and I spent the next seven months preparing.

Little Noah arrived in July 2016.

‘Hello my gorgeous boy,’ I whispered.

But after I took a shower the next day, my heart sank.

The rash was back.

Just like before, whenever water touched my skin, I’d break out in spots.

Now it was even tougher as I had to bathe Noah.

I was devastated.

Noah’s dad and I split, and I eventually found love again with Billy.

Then, in June 2018, I fell pregnant again.

Just like before, my water allergy stopped.

‘It must be the pregnancy,’ I told Billy.

So I mentioned this to my doctor.

‘That’s weird,’ he said, unable to explain it.

It felt amazing to shower or wash the dishes without any reactions.

As my tummy grew, I felt a buzz of excitement every time I washed Noah or even got caught in the rain.

I wondered whether this time I was cured for good.

In February 2019, baby Jaxon was born.

Going for a shower later that day, I was distraught to discover the same itchy rash appear
on my skin.

Tests at the doctors revealed my white blood cell count was high again, confirming the allergy was back.

Alex Mackay with Jaxon, Billy and Noah
Me, Jaxon, Billy and Noah

No-one was able to explain why it disappeared when I was pregnant.

This time, I was so distraught.

‘I’m so upset, why does it have to come back?’ I cried.

‘I wish there was a way we could fix it,’ Billy said, pulling me in for a hug.

Whether it was bathing the boys or washing my hands, the rash flared up.

In the last few months, I’ve noticed Jaxon is experiencing the same reaction when he comes in to contact with water.

Just like me, he’ll scratch away at the rash.

It’s devastating to see my boy going through the same pain and I’m just hoping that he’ll grow out of it.

Baby Jaxon now has the same reaction
My poor boy has the same reaction

Although my water   allergy does make life more complicated, I refuse to let it control how I live.

I shower for about five minutes every night and I’ll continue to bond with my sons at bath time and enjoy dips in the ocean, just like anyone else.

Billy helps out too, doing any water-related housework so I don’t suffer as much.

My situation may not be ideal, but I’m determined to make the most of life.

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