An allergy is an adverse immune response that occurs when the body attempts to protect itself from potentially harmful external agents. When exposed to certain allergens or irritants (pollen, poison ivy, chemicals, etc.), the immune system goes to work destroying the potentially hazardous stimuli. In some cases, an allergic reaction is necessary and beneficial. However, in the case of a true allergic reaction, the immune response is unnecessary or disproportionate to the body’s actual need. Skin allergies are usually mild and easily treated with over the counter products, but some people experience severe allergic reactions that can expose them to serious health risks like infection and anaphylaxis. It’s important to understand how your body responds to allergens and be prepared to address any issues as soon as possible. In this blog, we walk you through some basic information about skin allergies and how to care for them.
Common Sources of Skin Allergies
Individuals may experience allergic skin reactions to almost anything. Because of this, it can sometimes be tricky to pinpoint one particular entity that is contributing to the rash. The most common causes of skin allergies include the following:
- Plants – Poison ivy, oak, sumac, and other plants are very common skin allergy sources. Like the dripping nose and watering eyes that are common when the body is exposed to plant pollen, certain plants can also lead to skin rashes (like hives) and other allergic reactions. In very severe cases or if the rash spreads to the face, anaphylaxis (airway blockage) may happen.
- Bites – Insect bites and stings will almost certainly cause an allergic reaction for anyone. After a bug bite, you may see redness, swelling, and itching around the bite itself. This is normal, but if you see extreme swelling, pain, blistering, or the allergic response spreads, you should seek professional treatment.
- Latex – Latex and rubber allergies may actually be classified as a kind of plant allergy. Sap from rubber plants is chemically treated to create a range of latex products, including erasers, rubber gloves, balloons, and bandages. Unlike other skin allergies that are typically confined to the surfaces of skin, latex allergies have an increased risk for anaphylaxis and other more severe allergic reactions.
- Metal – Nickel-plated jewelry can turn just about anyone’s skin green, but for those with metal allergies, skin discoloration may be just the beginning. Swelling, redness, itching, and rashes can all develop as a result of metal allergies. Importantly, nickel isn’t found only in jewelry. It’s also in eyeglasses, paperclips, and other items, including foods, that you may come in contact with.
- Photosensitivity – If you spend time outdoors without sunscreen or other protection, you will likely experience a sunburn. People with photosensitivity (sun allergy) will likely burn more easily or experience severe symptoms like blistering and rash as a result of minimal sun exposure. Interestingly, there are even some medications that can predispose people to this type of allergy.
- Cosmetics & Skin Care Products – Chemicals and fragrances found in skincare products, lotions, and cosmetics can lead to breakouts, hives, and other symptoms of skin allergies. Additionally, if you experience adverse reactions to cosmetics and skincare products, you should take special care to avoid harsh cleaning products and soaps as they often have many of the same irritating ingredients.
Common Symptoms of Skin Allergies
If you have any of the following symptoms, you may be experiencing an allergic skin reaction.
- Redness or discoloration
- Scaling and flaky skin
Best At-Home Treatments for an Allergic Reaction
The first step toward relieving skin allergies is possibly the hardest. You have to avoid scratching. Some types of skin allergens can be spread to other parts of the body when you scratch. Even if this isn’t the case, scratching can create sores that further stimulate your body’s immune response leading to more inflammation. Scratching can also transfer bacteria and other external irritants, increasing your risk for infection. In addition to avoiding scratching, you should also take the following steps to address allergic skin reactions:
- Determine the cause of the allergic reaction and strictly avoid the allergen.
- Bathe with cool or lukewarm water and gentle, fragrance-free cleansers. You can also take soothing colloidal oatmeal baths to help relieve symptoms.
- Immediately after bathing, use a gentle, hypoallergenic moisturizing cream to soothe skin.
- Use an over-the-counter corticosteroid cream on the irritated skin twice a day. You can also use ointments like calamine lotion to relieve symptoms.
- Take allergy medicine (antihistamines) to relieve symptoms, but pay attention to the label as many of these products can cause drowsiness.
- You can use cool, wet compresses on the area to relieve symptoms and help you avoid scratching.
- Wear loose-fitting, breathable clothing to avoid further irritation.
When to Visit a Dermatologist for an Allergic Reaction
Most skin allergies have an obvious source, are mild, and respond well to at-home care, but if you have a skin allergy or reaction that lasts longer than 1-2 weeks without any noted improvement with the above measures, you should call our office. That being said, if you are experiencing any swelling of your mouth/tongue or are having difficulty breathing, the best and immediate course of action should be to call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. These severe allergic reactions can be dangerous if not handled in an urgent manner. Some indicators that you should seek professional treatment after an allergic skin reaction include:
- A reaction that worsens or does not improve with treatment
- Raw, blistered skin or oozing sores
- A reaction that lasts more than two weeks or that returns after it clears
- If you have severe swelling or inflammation, especially in and around the face that can cause difficulty breathing, impaired vision, and other concerns
- You are unable to determine the underlying cause of your allergic reaction
Preventing Skin Allergies
Some skin allergies are unavoidable, but there are some steps you can take to prevent skin allergies, including:
- Determine your allergy causes – If you’re not sure what is causing the allergic reaction, you can visit a board-certified dermatologist for testing.
- Avoid allergens – Once you know the causes of your skin allergies, do your best to avoid them.
- Change your clothes – You may want to change your clothes, as many allergens can cling to fabric and irritate your skin later.
- Shower after exposure – If your skin has been exposed to an allergen, you should try to wash the exposed area as soon as possible.
- Moisturize – After showering or cleansing the area exposed to the allergen, use a gentle moisturizer to reduce the risk for skin inflammation and irritation.
Working with U.S. Dermatology Partners for Healthier Skin
Whether you’re struggling with skin allergies or looking to improve your skin’s overall health and vitality, U.S. Dermatology Partners is here to help. Simply get started by filling out our online request form. The U.S. Dermatology Partners office that is closest to you will be in touch soon to answer any questions and set up your appointment.
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