I'm allergic to water and I cannot drink, bathe, sweat or cry without reacting

A 25-year-old lady has opened up about her rare condition in hopes of helping others with chronic conditions too.

Tessa Hansen-Smith has the rare condition of Aquagenic Urticaria, meaning she's allergic to water.
Tessa Hansen-Smith

Tessa Hansen-Smith has the rare condition of Aquagenic Urticaria, meaning she's allergic to water.

She developed the “water allergy” when she was around eight years old, and it has worsened over the years.

Tessa said:

I would come out of showers and have huge welts on my skin, and my scalp would be bleeding after showering.

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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.

As a little girl, she played, swam, took baths and drank lots of water like any other kid until she began developing mysterious symptoms.

Now, water causes itching, rashes and hives on her skin. If she drinks it, she can feel a burning sensation in her throat and body.

So, she drinks mostly milk because the water content is buffered by proteins, fats and sugars.

Years of testing by many specialists finally led to a conclusion by her closest doctor, her mother.

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," explained Dr. Karen Hansen-Smith, Tessa's mom.

As a family medicine physician, Tessa's mom has seen many rare illnesses, but watching her own daughter suffer is even more difficult.

It is heartbreaking. I still have my daughter, she's 25. She's not living the life she wanted to live," said Karen.

Tessa credits her positive perspective to the support of family and friends.

That seriously makes all the difference, having people around you that do believe you and are helpful.

Tess takes walks but must avoid sweating too much, so she spends much of her days indoors, working on art, playing with her cats and reading.

In the summertime, when people are going to the beach, people are having pool parties and trying to escape the heat the best they can, those are things I can't participate in and can't enjoy, so it can be really isolating," Tessa said.

While avoiding water, her health took a drastic turn.

Tessa spent 12 days at Community Regional Medical Center after becoming so dehydrated that she developed ischemic colitis, in which blood flow is blocked to the colon, resulting in serious illness.

She is still recovering with physical therapy.

After that setback, Tessa is pouring out her story to help others with rare and often misunderstood conditions.

She's part of a book entitled “Chronically Empowered” and even appeared on the Dr. Oz show.

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," Tessa explained.

Tessa's story has gone viral on social media, and she uses her Instagram page Living Waterless to connect with others with rare conditions, offering understanding and support.

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," Tessa said.

She hopes to continue pursuing a nursing degree and says as a nurse, she would approach patients with compassion and, most of all, belief in their symptoms.

I hope that I can go back to school again, I hope that I can get a job again, I hope that I can find a sense of normalcy in life again," Tessa explained.

Tessa has an older sister who does not have a water allergy.

It's estimated only 100 to 250 people have Aquagenic Urticaria worldwide.

There is no cure for it, and Tessa and her parents meet with doctors in the Valley and in San Francisco to seek advancing allergy treatments.

For now, she takes antihistamines to alleviate the rashes, hives and itching from contact with water.

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