Allergic Reactions

Skin allergies, also known as dermatitis, cause a rash and irritation due to contact with a particular substance. Some allergies may develop over time and you might not experience a reaction immediately or even with your first several encounters with the product or item.

Some of the common things that can cause allergic skin reactions include: poison ivy (as well as poison oak and sumac); nickel, which is commonly found in jewelry, clothing and belts; leather; latex; hair dyes and straighteners; citrus fruits and fragrances commonly used in soaps, shampoos, lotions, perfumes and cosmetics.

Many rashes may look like an allergic reaction but really aren’t because your immune system isn’t involved. Instead, you touched something that directly hurt your skin. The longer that thing stayed on your skin, the worse the reaction. It’s called irritant contact dermatitis. If you have eczema, you’re more likely to get this kind of a rash. 

What Do Allergic Rashes Look Like?

In instances like poison ivy, the skin becomes red, itchy and swollen and develops small blisters, which can break and develop crusts and scales. The skin becomes thick, red and scaly with long-term exposure to an allergen. Later the skin may darken and become leathery and cracked. Allergic rashes can be hard to distinguish from other rashes.

How Do I Find Out What I’m Allergic To?

Your dermatology provider will ask you what materials you encounter at work and at home to try to identify the allergen. Sometimes, the cause cannot be identified by history or examination and your provider will perform a patch test. Patch tests are a safe and an easy way to diagnose allergic contact rashes. Testing is done for numerous allergens. Small amounts of the common allergens are applied to the skin on strips of tape and then are removed after a couple days. A positive allergy test shows up as a small red spot at the site of the patch.

Do I Have a Skin Allergy or a Rash?

It’s not easy to tell whether your rash was caused by an allergy or by damage to your skin because many of the symptoms can be the same. Usually, a rash will happen immediately if you have something that is irritating your skin such as a soap or chemical. Your skin will usually itch and possibly burn. A skin allergy can develop over time and it may be a few days or even longer until a rash appears. You’ll likely experience more pain than itching. An allergic skin response is usually confined to the specific area of exposure (such as your hands where you might have applied lotion). In both cases, your skin may blister or you may experience a rash.

What are Common Skin Allergens?

  • Nickel: Nickel is found in many products, including gold jewelry, and is commonly used in metal alloys.
  • Stainless: Stainless steel also contains nickel, but it is bound so tightly that it is safe for most nickel-sensitive individuals. Sweating can increase the rash in nickel-sensitive people. Earrings containing nickel can cause a rash on the earlobes. Clothing fasteners made of nickel (buckles, zippers, buttons, and metal clips) can cause allergic reactions. Nickel-sensitive people should substitute nylon accessories.
  • Rubber: Rubber, especially latex, can cause immediate allergic reactions including itching, burning, and hives under the rubber object. People who wear rubber gloves, including medical professionals are often affected. Vinyl or other synthetic gloves can be substituted.
  • Chromates: Chromates are found in cement, rubber, some matches, paints, and anti-rust products. Contact is common in jobs in the automobile, welding, cement, railroad, and building repair industries.
  • Hair Dyes: Some people are sensitive to paraphenylene-diamine (PPD) found in permanent hair dyes that are mixed with another chemical before application. Most people will not be allergic to temporary dyes, but a few react to these dyes, too.
  • Skin Care ProductsMany people react to the fragrance in perfumes, lotions and cosmetics. People with fragrance allergy can use fragrance-free products, but “unscented” products often use “masking” fragrance to cover up the smell of the chemicals. Others are sensitive to preservative chemicals.

How to Care for Your Skin Allergy

Depending on the location of your outbreak, try to leave the irritated skin exposed to air as often as possible. If you’ve recently started using anything new that could be to blame for the allergy, discontinue its use immediately to see if that product was to blame for the outbreak. If you can, wash the skin with mild soap and cool water to remove any residue from the problem substance to help reduce symptoms. If you have blisters, apply cold, moist compresses for 30 minutes, three times a day. An oral antihistamine may help with any itching, however do not use an antihistamine lotion unless suggested by your doctor because it may cause further irritation. If your outbreak only covers a small area, try applying hydro-cortisone cream for relief.

How are Skin Allergies Treated?

Mild allergic rashes usually respond to topical steroid creams or oral antihistamines. Severe rashes may be treated with oral or injected corticosteroids, antibiotics, or other anti-inflammatory agents. If you have an allergic contact rash, avoid the allergen that causes the rash, substitute products, and make an appointment with your dermatology provider.

How to Prevent Skin Allergies

Since most skin rashes are due to an allergic reaction, an important way to prevent them is to identify what you’re allergic to and then take precautions to avoid it. If it’s particularly difficult to identify the allergy, your dermatology provider may suggest skin testing to make an accurate diagnosis.

When to Seek Medical Help for Your Skin Allergy

For mild rashes and irritations you should be able to treat the condition at the home with over-the-counter medications. However if your rash is persisting for several days and has not responded to treatment at home, is accompanied by hives or red blotchy skin, or fever you may need to make an appointment for a professional dermatological consultation. A dermatology expert can help with treatment, especially if you’ve had the rash for a long time, if it is causing significant pain or discomfort, or if it is disturbing your daily life.

Your Radiant Complexions skincare expert will conduct some tests to determine the cause of your allergic reaction, especially if you have had the condition for any period of time. This may include asking you questions, taking a health history, doing a physical exam, blood-work, and possibly doing a skin biopsy to examine a small piece of the affected skin so that the cause of your allergy can be determined.

You may also be prescribed an antihistamine or combine it with other medications to control the symptoms. Antihistamines may also help provide temporary relief, but will not totally resolve the issue until the cause of the hives has been removed. Be sure to take any medication as instructed as soon as possible and follow treatment instructions as directed.

When to Seek Emergency Treatment for an Allergic Reaction

Most skin allergies are not serious, however if you are feeling faint, vomiting, having trouble breathing or swallowing, call 911 or seek emergency care right away.

If you have an allergic reaction and are concerned about the condition, call your local Radiant Complexions Dermatology clinic for a consultation. Same day appointments are available!

Source: Web MD