By Gareth Shoulder @garethshoulder
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Videographer / director: Alex Price
Producer: Gareth Shoulder, Ruby Coote
Editor: Beth Angus
Cherelle Farrugia, 26, from Cardiff, Wales, breaks out into painful itchy hives whenever she comes into contact with water. The areas on her body worst affected are her chest, back and upper arms.
Cherelle wasn’t born with the allergy but bizarrely discovered her skin would become red and painful after bathing – something that did not happen before she gave birth to her daughter, Willow.
The unusual condition called aquagenic urticaria makes simple day-to-day actions like washing herself and bathing her 18 month-year-old daughter incredibly difficult.
Cherelle told Barcroft TV: “Up until I had my daughter, I had no issues with water at all, I had three baths a day and literally the first bath after I had her I broke out into this awful rash.
“Physically it’s quite painful and its very itchy, it’s kind of like a prickly feeling and then it’s a full-blown rash.
“I’m mostly affected just above my belly button, so my legs are rarely affected, it’s mostly my stomach, shoulders, back and my neck.
“Occasionally I get it on my face if I’m having a particularly nasty reaction.”
For the first few months after the birth of her daughter Cherelle would avoid leaving the house especially if it was raining for fear of breaking out.
Feeling like a prisoner in her own home Cherelle developed severe health anxiety and felt guilty she wouldn’t enjoy a normal life with her newly born daughter.
Cherelle said: “The weather used to make me feel really anxious, I think for about two months even if it was just drizzling, I wouldn’t leave the house.
“I had panic attacks because I was so overwhelmed.
“I didn’t know much about the condition and I read the horror stories online of people going into shock.
“I spent a lot of time indoors which really didn’t help with my depression.”
The condition is incredibly rare with under 40 reported medical cases worldwide – not much is known about what causes aquagenic urticaria and there is no known cure.
Cherelle felt doctors weren’t taking her seriously because the allergy is so uncommon - they suggested trying different soaps or she could even be allergic to her towel.
At a loose end the 26-year-old tried different temperature water – even using chemically pure osmosis water on her skin, but she kept breaking out in a rash.
It wasn’t until the new mother went to a private allergist that she was finally diagnosed with the water allergy.
Cherelle said: “I was getting really upset and I was thinking nobody is going to take me seriously.
“When I told the private allergist and he told me you have aquagenic urticaria I was like thank god there’s somebody who finally understands.”
The condition means activities most people take for granted like washing or going swimming with their children can become problematic for Cherelle.
She said: “If I did decide to go swimming with Willow it can potentially be very dangerous, it means I could go into shock.
“I’ve spoken to a number of doctors and they don’t know what could happen if I go swimming and for me that’s a really scary thing not knowing.
“I usually shower in the morning because I’ve got it done so I can kind of have my breakfast then and distract myself while the reactions are happening.
“I think a lot of people who do have long showers are sort of there enjoying the water so for me I don’t have that time I just have to clean very fast.”
Cherelle has a strong support network of family and friends who help with water related activities.
One core member of her friendship group is Lucy Gilmore who spends most days with the mother and daughter duo.
Lucy, 27, said: “Cherelle is my best friend and of course I help out when I can. That’s just what you do for your friends.”
Through her fantastic group of friends and family Cherelle now lives as normal a life as possible.
She is using the experience of living with this rare condition and health anxiety to write a book and is training to become a counsellor.