An allergy is a disorder that starts when your immune system interprets a harmless substance you’ve ingested as a dangerous pathogen. According to Live Science, “your system raises its defenses every time it detects particles of the offending substance or allergen, triggering a bevy of unpleasant side effects, such as wheezing, sneezing, itching, and swelling.”
The most common types of allergy triggers include pollen, dust mites, mold, animal dander, and certain food and medications [via WebMD]. But there are allergies so bizarre and rare that even doctors are baffled.
Imagine not being able to swim, bathe, or cry without breaking out in hives. The human body is made up mostly of water, but this rare type of allergy known as aquagenic urticaria exists and affects one in every 230 million people. Symptoms include itching or burning sensation after being exposed to water, while hives, rash, or erythema may appear on the skin within 1-15 minutes of water exposure. Painful lesions may develop within 10-120 minutes, and in some cases difficulty swallowing, wheezing, or subjective respiratory distress will occur after drinking water [via MD Health].
Utah teen Alexandra Allen is one of the only 50 documented cases in medical journals worldwide. She first noticed her severe reaction to water when she was 12 years old. During a family vacation, she went swimming in a pool and woke up in the middle of the night covered in hives. She now manages her symptoms by taking cold five-minute showers twice a week, cutting off her long hair to reduce shampoo time and avoid sweating, taking shots for chronic hives, and going vegetarian to reduce the amount of oil her body produces. But she counts herself lucky for not being allergic to drinking water, unlike other reported cases.
About 1,000 people worldwide suffer from exercise-induced anaphylaxis (EIA), a rare disorder in which an allergic reaction occurs after physical activity. According to Medscape, “vigorous forms of physical activity such as jogging, tennis, dancing, and cycling are more commonly associated with exercise-induced anaphylaxis, although lower levels of exertion (ex. walking and yard work) are also capable of triggering attacks.” Allergy experts believe that this can also be caused working out directly after eating certain trigger medications or food such as wheat, shellfish, tomatoes, peanuts, and corn.
Marathon runner Mary Johnson was 18 when she was diagnosed with EIA. Now 28, she’s had three life-threatening attacks, but continues to run while making necessary precautions, such as knowing where her epinephrine pen is. People suffering from this allergy are taught to abstain from exercise 4-6 hours after eating, avoid certain medications and food that could trigger the attack, and other lifestyle changes.
More than just your usual sunburn, sun sensitivity has a variety of common conditions, such as sun hives, sun rash, and photosensitive eczema. A more rare condition is called solar urticaria, an abnormal reaction to sunlight or even artificial light. For those suffering from solar urticaria, it takes a few minutes to an hour after sunlight exposure before rashes appear, and another hour or so before the swelling goes down. To diagnose the condition, doctors use a photo-testing instrument. Different doses of ultraviolet and visible wavelengths are tested on the skin to measure a person’s sensitivity to each part of the light spectrum [via Net Doctor]. People who suffer from solar urticaria go on a complete lifestyle change, such as sporting sun-protective wardrobe daily, using high SPF, and avoiding sunlight as much as possible.
Dermatographia, also called dermographism (literally “writing on the skin”), is a skin condition that makes a person sensitive to pressure and touch. In some cases, even the slightest touch or minimal physical stimulation can trigger an allergic reaction. Everyday things like wearing a belt can cause extensive puffiness.
Ariana Page Russell, a Brooklyn artist who suffers from dermatographia, would get bruises on her face with just a slight scratch. Her allergies can also be triggered by cold weather, strong emotions, and exercise. As an advocate of dermatographia awareness, she formed the online support group Skin Tome to help others suffering from the rare condition.
Also known as seminal plasma hypersensitivity, semen allergy is an extremely rare allergic reaction to proteins found in a man’s semen. Symptoms include redness, swelling, pain, itching, and a burning sensation in the vaginal area 10-30 minutes after contact with semen [via ISSM]. It’s often misdiagnosed as vaginitis (inflammation of the vagina), a yeast infection, or an STD like herpes. An immediate solution is to let the male partner use a condom during sex. For a more long-term remedy, the female must undergo months to years of desensitizing treatments to train her immune system against hypersensitivity.
It can be frustrating for couples to conceive when the female is diagnosed with this allergy. Some result to artificial insemination to get pregnant. Read this one woman’s journey through years of suffering from this semen allergy.