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Aquagenic pruritus is a rare skin condition that has been reported by dermatologists. It is a harmless, yet very uncomfortable and sometimes disturbing condition that causes severe itching after contact with water. It usually occurs a few minutes after a shower, hot or cold, causing a prickling skin itch that is not accompanied by skin lesions. Itching may last from a few minutes to a couple of hours.

Aquagenic pruritus is similar to another condition called aquagenic urticaria, where the skin develops itching, burning, and rashes or hives after exposure to water. These symptoms may also occur with exposure to sweat or tears. Another condition, called aquadynia, causes severe, widespread pain on the skin, that lasts a few minutes after exposure to water.

People who suffer from aquagenic pruritus usually complain of intense itching a few minutes after stepping out of their showers. The itch occurs almost everywhere in the body, and may last for as little as ten minutes, or as long as 120 minutes. No other changes in the skin can be seen. Emotional lability is present in some patients. Symptoms are not affected by the use of skin products, such as soap or lotions, and they do not seem to be related to allergic skin conditions.

It is not clear what causes aquagenic pruritus, but about one third of patients have a family history of the condition. Some patients who are suffering from a bone marrow disease called polycythemia rubra vera also complain of aquagenic pruritus. Elderly people are also more likely to experience these symptoms.

When to See a Doctor

Although aquagenic pruritus is a harmless condition, it can be very uncomfortable and even distressing. Some people get relief from applying either hot or cold packs on their skin, or using skin lotions and creams with emollients. It is advisable to see a doctor if simple home remedies do not work.

It is also best to see a doctor to find out if your itchy skin condition is not related to other medical conditions such as polycythaemia rubra vera, which is a form of blood cancer. Other diseases that include generalized skin itching include chronic liver disease, allergic conditions, diabetes, and more.

Remedies for Aquagenic Pruritus

There seems to be no cure for aquagenic pruritus but certain treatments have been tried with different results.

One study reported that adding sodium bicarbonate or baking soda to the bath water may relieve symptoms in some patients. Symptoms in elderly patients may be relieved by using emollients or skin moisturizers.

Drugs such as anticholinergics and antihistamines, which are often prescribed for patients with asthma and allergies, do not seem to be effective. However, some studies suggest that antihistamines, such as loratadine, may work when combined with other treatments.

Capsaicin cream has been found to be effective in relieving itch in many types of skin disorders, including aquagenic pruritus. Other forms of successful treatments include UVB phototherapy, psoralen photochemotherapy (PUVA), and naltrexone. Naltrexone is a natural opiate which can suppress the sensation of itching.

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