Well it has been a while since I have posted, and I have a new theory that I am getting excited about: Hard Water!
I am becoming more and more convinced that there is something in the water that is causing my hives to get worse, and could possibly be the source of my Cholinergic Urticaria altogether. So let me back up for a moment and explain:
In my old house, I had hard water for sure. I had first developed cholinergic urticaria during the winter, when hard water is supposed to be the worst. During the winter, the ground freezes and the water tends to pull in even more minerals and become harder than in other months. Also, the air is more dry and the skin gets tight and itchy.
I used to stand in the shower at my old house for like 20 minutes and turn the water as hot as it would go. That is when I first developed cholinergic urticaria.
My hives then cleared up that summer, which is when the water is supposed to naturally soften a bit. So I think something changed in my water that helped me clear out the hives. I also sweat more regularly that summer, and got more sun exposure which could have helped. My hives then remained in remission for a year or two after that. I even almost forgot about them!
Then fast forward to my moving into a new apartment with a different water source. The water here is a nightmare (in fact, it got a really bad analysis report a few years back, and they were forced to make it better). Suddenly within a week or two of moving out to here, I started to develop these rashes on my body (which was eczema/dermatitis). They got worse and worse over time.
This was incredibly odd for me, because I always had perfect skin and NEVER had eczema before in my life. And BAM, the hives came right back into the picture, and I have had them since.
The water in my apartment is way harder than my water at home. In fact, I would say 2-3 times much harder. Soap scum builds like crazy, and is almost impossible to get off. I have even posted before about the water softener idea.
In my shower, I scrubbed that thing for hours until it was finally clean, and just a month later, I can rub my finger up the side very softly and get a powdery residue on my finger! So now that I am thinking back, I am getting more and more convinced that the hard water is the cause of my hives problem.
What is even more interesting is that many of the people on here are from the UK, which also mostly has very hard water. People on the forums have also mentioned a white residue on their skin, and once again that is a tell-tale sign of hard water.
And like I said, cholinergic urticaria, eczema, and other rashes tend to get much worse during winter, and it just so happens that the water quality tends to be harder during those months as well.
Why I Think Hard Water Could Cause or Aggravate Cholinergic Urticaria
As I have mentioned in the past, I think cholinergic urticaria is merely a symptom, not a disease itself. There may be different causes of the hives for some of us.
But in my case (and perhaps others), I think it could be caused by the hard water (or other chemicals in the water). I have never really realized how big of a deal this was, until recently when I have researched this topic in more detail. I always thought water was water, but not so. The minerals and chemicals in the water can affect you seriously.
Did you know that water softeners often help skin disorders such as eczema? That surprised me. In fact, a research group in the UK actually did a big study to see if water softeners could help treat eczema. Turns out it does, and many dermatologists are now recommending getting a softener!
One child in the study had such severe eczema, that he had to have his hands bandaged to keep himself from scratching the sores. He was placed on a water softener, and in 2 weeks there was a dramatic improvement. In a few months, he was back to normal again. They re-introduced hard water to make sure that was the cause, and sure enough the eczema returned!
This is huge because while not all eczema may be caused by hard water, it proves that at least some cases are caused (or worsened) by hard water. This makes sense, because obviously if the water is irritating your skin, it will clear once you remove that irritant. However, if the eczema is caused by a food allergy, then the water softener may improve the eczema, but not cure it (unless you remove the food allergen).
In either case, the water softeners seemed to help in many cases, or drastically improve (even cure) eczema in other cases. In fact, on most all websites I seen people recommending water filtration and softeners and that it dramatically helped their skin. Some even had itchy skin, rosacea, and more, and it made it much better.
How Hard Water May Be Behind Cholinergic Urticaria
There are 4 possible ways that I theorize water quality could affect cholinergic urticaria.
Theory 1–The chemicals in the hard water (calcium and magnesium ions) are in excessive quantities. These chemicals get really sticky, and bind to every surface they touch. Therefore when we take showers, they clog our sweat pores with a sticky film of calcium/magnesium which makes sweating very difficult.
Theory 2–The chemicals in the hard water form a coating on the skin, and the magnesium or calcium ions somehow weaken our mast cells in our upper skin layer. Then, when we get hot, these mast cells quickly break down. This could be due to the weakening of the mast cell membrane by the chemical composition/ions in the water source. One interesting thing I found online is that metals do often change the membrane of the mast cells, and one person with CU had copper sensitivity that was the cause of cholinergic urticaria (from an IUD and fillings).
Theory 3–The chemicals in the water just have something our immune system has identified as an enemy. Therefore, when our bodies get hot and the blood flows to our skin, these cells suddenly identify an invader and the mast cells break down.
Theory 4–The composition of the water (acidity/chemicals) have somehow caused an imbalance in our skin flora. This could allow the “bad bacteria” to grow in greater abundance, and perhaps these bacteria are either clogging our pores, or stimulating our immune system in a way that is causing hives.
I definitely think that if the hard water is to blame, it is doing it in one of those 4 ways above. Even my wife has had much more scaly skin since moving into this apartment. And my hives were okay before I moved here, and suddenly, my body went nuts and I got rashes, hives again, and everything.
So I am now highly convinced that something specifically in the water (either the hardness or other chemical additives) are a directly affecting or even causing my hives.
How To Cure Water Hardness and Chemical Additives?
After researching online, it seems there are definitely things we can do to help our water quality.
- Get a Water Softener–This is always the most recommended thing. I want one so bad, but I live in this apartment right now and there is no way to hook one up. You must hook them into the pipes before the water heater. A downside is that they are quite expensive for the average person ($400-1000). But I would pay just about anything to cure these hives.
- Get a Filtration System–They make many different types of filters, such as reverse osmosis, which also removes the harsh chemicals and minerals from the water. Water softeners are generally recommended for the bath and whole house, whereas a reverse osmosis filter is recommended for the kitchen drinking water.
- Carbon Shower-head Filtration–Unfortunately, this only generally removes chlorine and large sediments, and does not filter out fluoride, magnesium and calcium. So it may make the water slightly better, but the water will still be hard, and contain many other chemicals.
The first 2 require plumbing changes to pipes, which I cannot do at the moment in my apartment, as it would require structural changes and my lease says I can’t do that. The third one I have tried and it did help my skin some, but I still had hives. But again, I think it is mostly the hardness in water, not necessarily the chlorine.
Update on Hives and Other Things
My hives have still been bothering me lately. They are quite reactive, but nothing too severe. It has been a little hotter than usual lately, and that has made me react a little more.
I have tried to avoid showering as much as possible, and I am even considering avoiding showers completely for a few weeks to see if it helps (of course I would wash my hair and body parts as needed). I just think the water could be the cause of all of this torture I have gone through the past few years.
Also, my wife and I are finally seriously shopping for houses. This is both exciting, and quite frustrating as there aren’t a lot of great deals right now. We have looked at a few, but nothing great yet, and we haven’t made any offers. I absolutely CANNOT wait to get away from this place.
The first thing I am doing when I get a house is hooking up a water softener, and I will post how I do it on here, and if it helps the hives or not. So hopefully (God willing), I will be in a house within the next 2-3 months and be able to do all of this.
I just can’t imagine if the water was the cause of all of this. That would be both awesome and frustrating. It would be awesome because I can finally cure this frustrating condition and go on with my life. It would be frustrating because I could have done this 7 years ago and avoided all of this torture and negativity it has brought into my life.
Oh well, I will keep my fingers crossed and hope that it works. At least it gives me some hope that I may not have this forever!