25-year-old Tessa Hansen-Smith suffers from a rare allergy known as aquagenic urticaria, which means she's allergic to water, to the extent that even her tears and sweat can leave her with welts and hives.
In an interview with ABC30, the Fresno, California woman shared her experience with the condition and how it has gotten worse ever since she developed the allergy when she was just eight. "I would come out of showers and have huge welts on my skin, and my scalp would be bleeding after showering," she explained. "So, the first things we kind of did was, 'Okay, let's take away your shampoos, take away your conditioner, take away any soaps you're using.'"
When she was a child, she was able to swim and drink water like everyone else her age, but then she started to develop symptoms that included itching, rashes, and hives. Even drinking water can leave her with a burning feeling in her throat and stomach, which means she has to drink mostly milk due to the proteins and fats reducing the amount of harm the water content can inflict.
"I feel a little guilty as a mom for not having seen when she would get out of the shower that she had hives and figuring it out way earlier that it was a water issue," added her mother, Dr. Karen Hansen-Smith. "It is heartbreaking. I still have my daughter, she's 25. She's not living the life she wanted to live."
Unfortunately, she's been met with skepticism regarding the allergy throughout her life, which has included people "purposely" throwing water at her during her time in college. Eventually, she had to leave college and move back home when the COVID-19 pandemic hit because she has a compromised immune system. At one point she was hospitalized for 12 days because of dehydration. Now she's looking to share her story to help others deal with aquagenic urticaria.
"I always think about how much easier and how much better life would have been if this didn't happen to me, but because I know I can't really change that, I just focus on how I can help other people going through similar things," she said. "Having been able to meet so many people and getting to talk to so many people from so many different walks of life really does give me a lot of joy and gives me a sense of purpose with the condition."
There's no cure for aquagenic urticaria, which is believed to impact roughly 100 to 250 people worldwide.