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‘Even my own tears could kill me’ – Hartlepool mum is allergic to water

Barbara Ward from Hartlepool who has severe allergies including water and perfume.

Barbara Ward from Hartlepool who has severe allergies including water and perfume.

A MUM today told how she is so allergic to water even her own tears could kill her.

Barbara Ward, 43, was diagnosed with the rare disorder after being hospitalised by a shower which sent her into severe anaphylactic shock.

Any contact with water triggers a painful rash and wheezing. Barbara also has to carry two epipens at all times and take strong antihistamines every day.

Mum-of-two Barbara cannot even drink plain water and can only handle a few sips of tea or milk at a time.

She cannot exercise in case she breaks into a sweat, avoids weepy films in case she wells up, and even has to stay indoors during rain storms.

Even the simplest day-to-day tasks such as washing the dishes, bathing her children or going to the pub could kill her.

Barbara, of Northwold Close, Fens, Hartlepool, is limited to just two one-minute baths a week, which still leave her in excruciating pain.

Her condition, aquagenic urticarial, is so rare it only affects one in 230 million people and doctors are still unable to explain what causes her symptoms.

She said: “It’s an absolute nightmare and I react every day to the normal things in life.

“I can’t even read sad posts on Facebook because if I get dragged into an emotional whirlwind and end up crying, I could die.

“I’m used to living like this now but it is such a limited life.

“I’m not like other mums, I can’t even run around with my kids or play with them because the sweat could send me into shock.

“Family get togethers are off the cards and I can’t ever go out for a meal or go to the pub for a pint.

“Other people’s perfume can set me off so going out in public is really dangerous too. It sounds so unbelievable, but I have to live like this.”

Barbara first realised something was wrong when she began developing red, itchy rashes all over her body.

Doctors initially thought she was suffering from eczema and prescribed her steroid cream, but it did not get any better.

It was not until her early 20s that the former call centre worker realised she felt ill after drinking water.

“Whenever I drank water my throat would close up and I’d be really wheezy,” she said.

“Before that, I’d just thought it was acid rain that was making my skin burn but then the penny finally dropped.”

In October 2013, after years of suffering, she was finally diagnosed with the severe water allergy after a shower put her in hospital.

The allergy, which is barely understood by professionals, can develop later in life and get more serious over time.

Now she has to take extra strength antihistamines throughout the day and avoid water at all costs.

Barbara’s husband Michael, 46, has to carry out all the household chores such as cleaning, cooking and washing.

He even takes their children Nathan, 23, Jordan, 19, Natalie, 11, and Jasmine, five, on family holidays and for meals without her.

Barbara can only drink tea or milk without suffering a reaction and she has not drunk a glass of plain, cold water for 20 years.

She said: “I really don’t understand how it works, my body is made up of water! No one really knows anything about the condition so I’m lost.

“For some reason I’ve always been OK with tea and milk.

“A sip of tap water can make me have wheezing and angioedema of the throat. My only guess is that it must be down to the chemicals they pump into the water supply.”

Luckily, Barbara has had support from charities Anaphylaxis UK and Allergy UK who are helping her work towards leading a normal life.

Maureen Jenkins, allergy expert at Allergy UK said: “Aquagenic urticaria is very rare and so unpredictable as it can become more severe over time.

“Barbara can drink hot water in tea but not cold tap water because the reaction is a rare type of physical urticaria [itchy rash].

“This means there are allergic-type symptoms that are not caused by the normal allergy mechanisms. However the reaction is still very real.

“As yet, the underlying biological mechanisms are not understood.”

 

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