There are a variety of types of skin allergies, but they all manifest with one symptom – itchy skin. Skin allergies occur when your body overreacts to something it has come into contact with. There are various types of allergic reactions that affect the skin including contact dermatitis, hives and eczema. Contact dermatitis and eczema usually involve only the skin, while hives, also called urticaria, can cause more serious symptoms such as swelling of the face and throat or difficulty breathing. Hives can be life-threatening.
What Causes It?
Allergies happen when the immune system overreacts to something and produces an antibody called IgE. This causes a series of chemicals to be released by cells including histamine that cause a variety of unpleasant signs and symptoms including itching, redness, swelling and a skin rash.
It’s not clear exactly why some people have skin allergies, while others don’t. Genetics play a role in why some people’s immune systems overreact to things in the environment since allergies run in families. Certain environmental exposures at a young age may also make allergies more or less likely to occur. Allergies seem to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Having a tendency to develop allergies and being repeatedly exposed to certain factors in the environment at an early age is probably what triggers allergies.
Certain triggers or allergens bring on the symptoms of allergy. It’s important to identify and avoid these triggers as much as possible. Sometimes a trigger will be obvious as when symptoms start after using a new skin care product or after buying a new perfume or detergent. In other cases, the cause isn’t so obvious. When skin allergies are a recurrent problem, and you don’t know what’s causing it, allergy testing may be helpful. Some common triggers are chemicals in skin, nail and hair care products, shampoos, cosmetics and detergents. Some people are also allergic to nickel in metal jewelry and latex in gloves. Any time you have a new rash or evidence of a skin allergy, check your medications. It could be an allergic reaction to a drug.
People who are prone to skin allergies should use skin care products and cosmetics that are hypoallergenic and avoid products that contain known allergy triggers. There are also fragrance-free detergents available that are a better choice for people with allergies. Avoidance is the best defense against allergies.
During an allergy flare, there are ways to reduce the inflammation and relieve the itching. Topical steroids available over-the-counter help to ease itching, although it’s best to use them only for short periods of time. Oatmeal baths and bathing in water containing chamomile, a natural anti-inflammatory, also soothes and eases irritated, itchy skin. Cold compresses provide temporary itch relief. Avoid long, hot baths and showers since this can dry out and irritate itchy skin.
For more severe itching, over-the-counter antihistamines block the chemical histamine released during an allergic reaction. This reduces itching. Unfortunately, some antihistamines also cause side-effects such as dry mouth and sleepiness. It’s best to avoid taking them during the day when you need to be awake and alert.
The Bottom Line?
Skin allergies are a common skin problem among all age groups. The best way to treat them is to identify what’s causing the allergic reaction and avoid it. People with skin allergies may react to a variety of ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products. That’s why it’s important to stick with hypoallergenic and fragrance-free products as much as possible. Keeping skin moisturized with a good hypo-allergenic moisturizer is also important to restore skin’s natural protective moisture barrier.