Understanding Skin Allergies

Skin allergies can cause itching and rashes.
©iStockphoto.com/Karen Mower

The skin is your largest organ and an important defender against invaders. It is constantly bombarded and usually fends off trouble quite successfully. Sometimes, however, an allergen gets the best of your skin, causing a reaction.

Symptoms can include a rash or hives, or swelling, itching, and cracking of the skin. Our hands, arms, neck, and face come in contact with so many substances every day that they are the most common sites for an allergic skin reaction, but no part of your anatomy is immune. A skin reaction that is the result of contact with an allergen is called allergic contact dermatitis. (By contrast, a skin reaction caused by contact with a substance that is harsh or caustic is called irritant contact dermatitis and does not involve allergies or the immune system.)


Itches happen when skin is irritated. The ordinary reaction to an itch is to scratch. What follows after can be a mess. The more you scratch, the more you damage your skin and the nerves just below the surface of the skin. The skin and nerves become increasingly inflamed, which only results in more itching. The best way to stop an itch is to practice self-control.

This article will explore skin allergies in-depth and the reactions they cause.  See the next page to get started.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.


What Causes Contact Dermatitis?

Potential allergens exist everywhere. Many can be rounded up in the bathroom cabinet: nickel/chrome in jewelry and snaps; latex found in condoms, rubber gloves, bandages, and rubber bands; chemicals in cosmetics, toiletries, and perfumes; hair products, including hair dye; and laundry detergent and fabric softeners. The great outdoors hosts such potential villains as poison oak, poison sumac, and poison ivy.

Identifying the exact cause of allergic contact dermatitis can be difficult because your skin comes in contact with hundreds of suspects a day and first reactions may occur hours or days after the initial contact. In some cases, a reaction doesn't occur until weeks or months of prolonged use. Luckily, contact dermatitis isn't named contact for nothing. Many allergens leave a trail to follow. The location of the rash, hives, or itch will help you to put the suspects in a lineup.For example, let's say your ears itch. What comes in contact with them? Earplugs, headphones, earrings, perfumes, hair products, and lotions might be major suspects.


How about a rash that develops under your arms? The possible causes: lotion, deodorant/antiperspirant, elastic straps in clothes, a bra's underwire, new fabrics, etc. Like so much in the allergy world, a little observation can go a long way toward discovering what is irritating you.

Pinpointing and avoiding contact with the allergen is the primary treatment for allergic contact dermatitis. However, if the rash spreads or if you develop hives or experience uncontrollable itching and the skin becomes red, tender, and damaged, see your physician.


Exploring Eczema

Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is a kind of skin allergy, but it is of mysterious origin.

Symptoms include red, itchy, dry, scaly patches most frequently on the face, arms, legs, and scalp. Infants and children are particularly susceptible to eczema, but the vast majority of children who have eczema outgrow it. It's clear that there's a connection between eczema and allergies, since 70 percent of those who have this skin condition have a family history of allergies or asthma. And one-third of those with eczema eventually will develop allergic rhinitis or asthma.


There is no cure for eczema. The best preventive measures are to moistureize your skin so it doesn't dry out and to pinpoint and avoid substances that seem to irritate your skin or trigger the rash. Additionally, topical medications containing steroids can help control itching, as can oral antihistamines.

Your skin is always being exposed to potential allergens. Allergic contact dermatitis and eczema are two different types of skin allergies. Identifying and treating them is a matter of being informed and knowledgeable.