By Federico Cornetto
A woman with an extremely rare allergy to water has revealed the tragic struggle of her day-to-day life.
Niah Selway, 21, from Hastings, East Sussex, has such severe reactions that a single drop of water can cause an intense burning all over her body that will last for hours.
She has Aquagenic Pruritus, an allergy that only affects very few people worldwide and has no known cause.
This rare condition means that, even though Niah’s organs are not affected and she can still drink water, liquids cannot come into contact with her skin, and everything from her own tears to sweat and urine can trigger allergic reactions.
Her symptoms are so intense that she will often fall-asleep from exhaustion after a reaction, and has been left housebound apart from trying to sort out medications.
Despite being under specialists for nearly four years, medical professionals are yet to find out the cause.
Niah, who is known on YouTube as the ‘Girl who’s allergic to water’ said: “I am suffering in a really severe way, and no medication or treatment has had any substantial effect.
“It doesn’t matter where the water touches me, if a drop touches my arm the pain will spread to my back and torso, sometimes to my whole body.
“When I have a bath my whole body burns for hours on end.
“Over time I worked out a routine, either way it’s painful but I have found ways to make it a little less traumatic.
“For instance, I don’t wash my hair in the bath anymore, I do it separately to feel less pain.
“There are so many things people don’t think about, such as sweat, urine and tears.
“Sometimes I’ll have a reaction on my body, I’ll start crying because of it and have one on my face too.
“It is basically a disability because of the things I can no longer do.
“In the morning I get to the toilet and I’ll have an allergic reaction to the first thing I do.
“I also can’t do much exercise apart from yoga and walking because I can’t sweat, and on hot days I’ll have to be stuck in front of the fan.
“My day is working around my pain.”
Niah experienced her first reactions at the age of five, with them worsening through puberty and finally peaking over the last couple of years.
She said: “Initially it would happen about every ten showers.
“The doctors weren’t showing any concern for it, so I thought maybe I am just not good at dealing with pain.
“Then in my teens it became every single shower or bath, and it got to the point where I wasn’t able to ignore it.”
Niah’s extreme symptoms have left her unable to carry out basic daily activities and ‘baffled’ doctors.
She added: “Most people with Aquagenic Pruritus seem to find some sort of cure or treatment, whereas for me nothing has worked.
“It’s difficult to see someone else find relief while it just won’t work on you.”
Towards the beginning of 2018, Niah came to the realisation that her illness would not allow her to lead a normal life.
She credits her strength to her parents Bob and Antonia and boyfriend Mark.
As well as the online support from her YouTube channel, which counts over 100.000 subscribers – which helped her to find joy amid her day-to-day struggles.
Niah said: “I stopped focusing on what’s going to happen, and try to make now as positive as it can be.
“My family have been amazing, even in little things, like doing the dishes.
“They just take all water-related responsibilities away from me, and they have adapted their lives around mine.
“I always worried when my condition got bad that my friends would leave me because I couldn’t do stuff with them, like going out and clubbing.
“But they are amazing, they are really understanding and make any effort to try and see me.”
Niah, who works at an insurance company, has been forced to take time off her job due to her condition.
Now barely able to leave the house, she will soon be deemed unfit to work.
Niah said: “There are days when my skin is awful from time to finish, and I just spend my time looking after my illness.
“The thought of rain is also terrifying, so I never go outside if there’s the chance it’s going to rain.
“I am in my own little bubble trying to deal with the pain, and I do what I can whenever it stops.”
One of Niah’s most treasured memories from childhood was ‘swimming’, and her favourite in adulthood as she first scuba dived in Tenerife in 2013.
She said: “A lot of plans for my bucket lists where water-related things, like swimming with sharks.”
However, her very predicaments allowed Niah to grow and find new strength and faith in herself.
She said: “I gained the ability to enjoy small things and not to be focused on the future, on the fact that I might not be able to work or have children.
“I only have time for positivity and people I love.
“If you weigh up how much of my time I spend in pain, I don’t think I should waste any of what’s left for myself.
“I am less worried about what other people are up to, what they do, what they think.
“I just try to do my best with the couple of hours that I have without the allergic reactions.”
Dr Adil Sheraz, consultant dermatologist and British Skin Foundation spokesperson, said: “Aquagenic Pruritus is an uncommon and distressing condition that results in severe itching almost immediately after contact with water.
“There is no visible change on the skin, the itching can last for an hour or more.
“Underlying causes for AP remain unknown, theories proposed include breakdown of mast cells that lead to histamine and thus an itch.
“Although this is an uncommon condition it is probably under-reported and misdiagnosed.”