Skin allergies are very common these days. As we go on with our daily lives, we interact with different people, visit different places that have different climates, eat different foods and so on.
That said, we expose ourselves to so many potential allergens (factors that cause allergies). For example, we can breathe in air that is rich in pollen which can lead to an asthma attack or other allergic reaction.
Walking by the roadside exposes us to many harmful chemicals emitted by vehicles. All of these instances are potential causes of skin allergies.
We’ve all experienced some type of skin allergies at some point in our lives. Some of us go through it more often than others. Whether it is the itchy skin you get when you put on that particular pair of earrings or that silver-coated necklace, or the sudden skin rash that appears when you put on latex gloves or when your skin brushes against some materials or even plants like poison ivy.
If you have ever experienced either of these, then you probably have a skin allergy. In simple terms, an allergy can be defined as when your body reacts to something that is usually harmless.
Skin allergies are very common all over the world, yet most people don’t know what they are all about. Therefore, here is the ultimate guide to skin allergies. We shall discuss the most common skin allergies including their causes, symptoms, and remedies or treatments where applicable:
Types of Skin Allergies
When it comes to the different types of skin allergies, you can easily identify them using the symptoms they show, or what caused them. That said, there are many different types of skin allergies. Some of them might have almost similar symptoms, while others can be different according to the degree of the symptoms.
This means that some skin allergies have mild symptoms and can be treated at home, while others have severe symptoms and command immediate medical attention. Here is a discussion of the some of the most common types of skin allergies:
Eczema can be described as the condition where the skin does not retain enough moisture. Therefore, its most common symptoms include itchy skin and dry skin. There is also some inflammation (feeling as if your skin is burning) which causes the skin to appear scaly and cracked.
Eczema mostly occurs in the creases of the arms and legs. It is a chronic (meaning it can occur multiple times) skin allergy that goes through remissions (periods when it is mild) and flare-ups (periods when it is very severe).
Some people are born with it as a result of genetics (inherit it from their parents), while others develop it through exposure to harmful allergens or chemicals. Most children outgrow their eczema but some retain in through adulthood.
2. Contact Dermatitis
Contact dermatitis is a condition where the skin causes a reaction when something touches it. For example, if you are allergic to nickel, the skin will cause a reaction every time you wear or touch anything (including jewellery) that contains nickel.
Another example of contact dermatitis is when the skin causes a reaction every time it brushes or touches poison ivy. Many people are allergic to the oil on some plants such as the poison oak plant. In simple terms, contact dermatitis results from touching anything that contains an allergen.
3. Hives (Urticaria)
This condition is mostly portrayed as raised bumps (also known as welts or wheals) on the skin which are formed as a result of an allergic reaction. One can get hives as a result of a food allergy.
These bumps form when the body releases histamine (a hormone used for protecting the body from attack) in response to the allergens. The welts vary in size and may be accompanied by itchiness.
They mostly appear on the arms and legs. Besides food allergies, other causes of hives also include bug bites. Personally, I once suffered from hives after eating too many eggs (I guess it must have resulted from the high protein content).
Angioedema is a condition characterize by a swelling deep in the skin. In most cases, it accompanie by hives. Areas that commonly affected by angioedema include the lips, throat, and eyelids.
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5. Heat rash
Heat rash (also known as prickly heat) is a condition that results when the skin expose to warm temperatures but the sweat ducts are unable to release sweat because they are in a state of blocking. This blockage causes skin inflammation and formation of red, itchy bumps.
Some studies have shown that the sweat ducts can block by a substance produced by bacteria known as Staphylococcus found on the skin. Heat rash can occur both in winter and summer. It is not contagious (cannot be transmitted from one person to another). In babies, heat rash can result from underdeveloped pores or being overdressed.
Skin Allergy Triggers
The best way to treat a skin allergy is to establish its trigger (cause). However, there are numerous factors that can trigger a skin allergy. Therefore, to get a glimpse of the most common skin allergy triggers, here is a list of allergens to consider:
The most common metal that most people are allergic to is nickel. It is used in making belts, jewellery, paper clips, and eyeglass frames among many other items. People who are most at risk include hair stylists, caterers, retail clerks, or anyone who often works with metals.
The most common plant allergens are :
- Poison sumac
- oak Poison
- Poison ivy
Any damage or bruise to parts of these plants will result in the secretion of an oil called urushiol. Skin contact with this oil will cause an itchy red rash that can be accompanied by either bumps or blisters. Therefore, next time you come across any of these plants, do not pluck off a leaf and keep your distance to avoid brushing it on your skin.
Latex or Rubber
The sap (liquid) extracted from rubber trees is usually mixed with some chemicals and used to make products such as:
• Elastic bras and waistbands
• Rubber gloves
Therefore, depending on the chemicals used, your allergy might be mild. This can be exhibited as a rash in your hands every time you take off your gloves.
However, your allergic reaction could also be life-threatening resulting in anaphylactic shock (a severe allergic reaction) that can quickly spread throughout your body and thus making it hard to breathe. People who are most vulnerable include health workers and those who have had a lot of surgeries.
Fragrances are the main components of perfumes, deodorants, and colognes. They are also added to most body soaps and face washes. They can also be found in most cleaning products and have been used to mask bad smells.
Pinpointing a fragrance allergy can be a bit challenging since the specific ingredients are not usually included on the labels. In fact, even products labeled “unscented” or “hypoallergenic” (hypoallergenic means they do not contain any allergens) could still have some quantities of fragrance. People who are at higher risks of contracting skin allergies caused by fragrance include physical therapists and massage specialists.
Antibiotics (medications used to treat some infections) can also cause some skin allergies especially when they are misused. However, in some instances, skin allergies might just be one of the side effects of using the antibiotics to treat a particular condition.
Such allergic reactions include swelling, rashes, redness, draining, blistering, itching, or even trouble when breathing. If not put to check, the reactions might result in a trip to the emergency room. Some antibiotics can slow down the wound healing process.
Clothing allergies can be exhibited as a skin rash on your feet when you wear some socks or shoes. It could also be exhibited as a skin rash on your body after wearing a particular shirt or dress.
You can also get a skin reaction after trying on a new outfit. In this case, the skin allergy triggers might be the chemicals or dyes used when processing the fabric (for example the dyes used to make it resistant to wrinkles). The fibers of the fabric itself could also be another trigger for the allergic reaction.
Some over-the-counter creams and ointments can actually make your skin allergy worse. Therefore, whenever you purchase an over-the-counter ointment or cream for treating cuts, burns, scrapes, insect bites and stings, toothaches, cold sores, ear aches, itching, or even cough drops, choose the ones that contain either of the following:
Some chemicals in household products
Most household products contain harmful chemicals in the form of preservatives. Such chemicals are preferred because they increase the shelf-life of products. They can be described as formaldehyde (a harmful chemical) releasers or parabens and can also be found in many beauty products.
They can be found in sunscreens, makeup, shampoos and conditioners, fake tattoos, hair dye, lotions and moisturizers among others. Therefore, watch out for labels such as:
• Diazolidinyl Urea
Some chemicals may cause a skin allergy when exposed to ultraviolet light. Therefore, it is possible to get hives or a skin rash when you apply some products on your skin and then use a tanning bed or get exposed to direct sunlight. Such chemicals only cause a reaction when exposed to UV light. Even though the reaction might look like a sunburn, it could be a skin allergy.
Symptoms of Skin Allergies
Most skin allergies exhibit almost similar symptoms. However, the difference usually comes in the patterns or appearance of the symptoms.
For example, some skin allergies such as shingles and psoriasis have almost similar symptoms. However, the defining factor for shingles is that the rashes or blisters occur around the abdominal region and might form a belt-like or half-belt shape.
They can also occur in one area of the abdomen. This symptom is most commonly referred to as the “shingles belt” or “shingles girdle” and it is only unique to shingles.
On the other hand, psoriasis is a condition that mostly affects other parts of the body like the scalp, face, nails, and typically anywhere on your body depending on the type of psoriasis involved. In other words, the symptoms exhibited by a skin allergy fully depend on the allergen involved or the cause.
If the nickel allergy occurs after eating something that contains nickel, the symptoms will include bumps on the sides of your fingers. These bumps can be referred to as pompholyx or dyshidrotic hand eczema.
The patient with this condition has many symptoms, which vary from one case to another. In general, the most important skin allergy symptoms include the following:
- Itching: The person who is suffering from itching has a strong desire to rub the area affected by allergies. This desire often increase during the night, or when the temperature raise in the injured area.
- Rash: It occurs in specific areas of the affected human body. The rash usually concentrate in the area of the hands or feet and may extend to all parts of the human body.
- Redness: This cause by the redness of the affected area. This redness is in the form of specially extended lines or circles in the affected area.
- Swelling: This occurs in some cases of infection in the form of excess protrusion in the allergic area.
- Dry skin: Some people with skin allergies may experience dehydration and peeling in some areas of the skin.
Treatment and Remedies for Skin Allergies
There is no known treatment for a nickel allergy. Therefore, the best cause of action is to void any contact with it. Avoid touching any jewellery, belt, eyeglass frames, or paper clips that contain nickel. Always check the labels to see if nickel is present before touching an item. In cases where you have to touch or wear an item that contains nickel, try applying a coat of nail polish to act as a barrier between the metal and your skin.
If your skin rash occurs as a result of an allergic reaction to poison oak, poison ivy, or poison sumac among other plants, you can use a wet compress to treat the rash.
Other remedies to plant allergies include oatmeal baths, calamine lotion, or hydrocortisone cream. However, if you inhaled the oil (maybe from burning plants) or your reaction is severe, see a doctor immediately.
Latex or rubber allergies
Treatment of latex or rubber allergies depends on the degree of the reaction. However, the best cause of action is to keep your distance.
To avoid getting a skin allergy from your clothes, always wash your clothes first before wearing them. It is also advisable to switch to organic fabrics such as cotton and other organic cotton blends. Keep off fabrics such as wool or mohair.
Watch out for products that advice you to avoid direct sunlight. Most topical creams affected by UV light should be used at night or when you will be spending the day indoors away from direct sunlight.
Home Remedies for Skin Allergies
Not all skin allergies require a trip to the emergency room. If the symptoms are mild, consider using any of the following home remedies for some relief:
- Avoid contact : It is the most obvious course of action but still the most effective. Prevention will always be better than cure. Therefore, keep off any skin allergy triggers.
- Keep the area cool : A cool shower or a cool compress can be quite useful in calming a fiery rash. Cool the area for some time, then gently pat it to dry and finish off with a gentle moisturizer.
- Soak the area (oatmeal bath) : Colloidal oatmeal (grounded oatmeal) prescribe in this case since it mixes better with lukewarm water. Soaking the area in this mixture can be a good remedy for skin inflammation. However, you should first do a patch test (this is where you test it on a small area of your skin before using it on your whole body). Lukewarm water is the best since hot water can cause further damage and dry out the skin.
- Wear baggy clothing : A skin allergy can quickly escalate by tight clothing due to the extra friction and pressure on the skin. Play safe with baggy and loose-fitting clothes until your skin rash subsides.
- Anti-itch creams : Some over-the-counter creams and lotions that contain hydrocortisone or calamine known to relieve itching.
- Damp dressing : For severe skin allergies, try using a damp dressing. Find a cotton piece of clothing that covers the area, dip it in cool water and wring it out. Wear it directly on the area, then find another clothing item and wear it over the damp item. However, make sure that it isn’t too tight. This remedy use mainly in cases where a clothing allergy involve and a large area has been affected.
Sometimes, when you come into contact with something that your body is unfamiliar with, it might interpret as an attack promoting your body to release some defense mechanisms. This can result in a skin allergy.
There are numerous other causes of skin allergies which have various symptoms. The skin allergies are just a few of them – but they are the most common ones. Some symptoms can recover by simple home remedies as discussed above. However, in cases of severe symptoms (especially if anaphylaxis is exhibited) seek immediate medical attention.