ASK DOC: I always itch after taking a shower; am I allergic to water?


My skin gets itchy for about 30 minutes after taking a shower.

Monday August 07 2017

Q: Dr Flo, my skin gets itchy for about 30 minutes after taking a shower. This problem started way back when I was a teenager. I am now 33 and I get embarrassed when I have to scratch my body in public after a shower with either cold or hot water. I have tried different medicated soaps with no improvement. What causes this problem?


Dear Alex,
You are suffering from aquagenic pruritus, which means itching caused by water, a kind of allergy to water. When you take a shower, the water produces an intense itching of the skin, usually with a prickling sensation, without any visible rash or swelling. The symptoms can last from 10 minutes to two hours, and usually go away on their own. There is no good reason why some people develop this problem, although sometimes it may be linked with some underlying blood conditions.
Showering with hot water for some people actually prevents the itching because the heat affects the cells (mast cells) that trigger the allergic reaction. But if you take a shower that is too hot and for too long, you can also get itching because the skin dries out.
Unfortunately, the condition has no cure. You can use anti-allergy tablets and creams/lotions for the itching, although they do not work very well. Avoid using harsh soaps for bathing, or harsh detergents for your towels, because the chemicals in the soap can also cause itching. Clean your towel regularly, like once or twice a week, to avoid growth of bacteria on a damp towel.

Dr Flo, after a scan a couple of years ago, I was told that I have a cyst in my vagina. No medication was prescribed, and I was advised to wait and see if it would shrink by itself. I never went for a follow-up since there was no pain. I can feel a swelling when I insert a finger inside my vagina to clean it with water (and no soap) when taking a bath. Sometimes I also feel discomfort, especially when I wear tight jeans, but there is no pain. I am now 40 years old and I am planning to get married soon. I haven’t told my fiancé about the swelling. We have been intimate for more than a year and I have never heard him talk or complain about feeling the swelling, so I feel there is no need to bring it up. However, we are planning to have a baby immediately and I’m wondering if the cyst will affect my chances of getting pregnant (I have never had a child). Does the cyst predispose me to vaginal cancer and can it be treated without surgery?


Dear Amy,
Vaginal cysts are pockets of fluid or air within the wall of the vagina that occur due to fluid build-up, injury caused by childbirth or surgery, some congenital defects, or non-cancerous swellings.
They may cause some discomfort, or you may not notice them at all. If they get infected and painful, antibiotics can help clear the infection, but there is no medicine to clear the cyst. If the cyst grows big or if it is too uncomfortable, then surgery is the only way to remove it.
Ideally, you should be on follow-up by a gynaecologist to check for any infections and also for a biopsy to make sure that cancer is not the cause of the cyst. This is especially important for those over the age of 40.
The cyst itself rarely has any long-term complications, other than the possibility of infection. It does not usually cause cancer, and it should not interfere with getting pregnant or delivering a child.

Dr Flo, I have this pain in my legs that persists for a while, then abates. The pain is excruciating and my legs feel weak and I am unable to walk. Could this be arthritis or wear and tear of muscles and ligaments? Would application of ointments and massage help?


Dear ADW,
Leg pain often comes from continuous wear and tear of the muscles, ligaments, tendons, joints or bones. If you are lucky enough to have functional legs, you will use them every day and at some point, the hardware begins to wear out, especially if you stand or walk a lot.
Other causes of pain in the legs may be problems with the spine or the lower back, arthritis, inflammatory diseases, blood clots, circulation disorders, nerve disorders, infection, cancer, injury, gout and even muscle cramps from dehydration.
It would be advisable for you to visit a doctor, because you need a proper examination and tests to establish the exact cause of the pain, so that you can get treatment specific to the cause.
You can manage the pain by using painkillers and massaging with analgesic ointments. Also, try and rest your legs as much as possible, raise your legs when you are sitting or lying down, and apply an ice pack to the area that is most painful. Depending on the cause of the problem, physical therapy/physiotherapy and regular exercise may be helpful. Wear comfortable shoes and take adequate water to avoid muscle cramps caused by dehydration.