Allergens can cause a wide range of reactions in your body, ranging from a mild case of the sniffles to life-threatening anaphylaxis. When allergens come in contact with your skin, they can cause allergic contact dermatitis, a red, itchy rash. Here's what you need to know about this uncomfortable reaction.
What allergens can cause it?
This reaction can be caused by any substance that comes in contact with your skin. Some of the common substances that lead to this reaction are latex gloves, poison ivy and other plants, nickel and other metals, fabrics, hair dyes, soaps, and moisturizers. Your reaction could be caused by one of these common allergens, or it could be caused by something completely different.
It's very hard to figure out what you're allergic to on your own. Allergies can develop suddenly, so you can't assume that a product you've been using for a long time isn't responsible for your reaction. It's important to get allergy testing done by an allergist so that you can know for sure what's causing your reaction and avoid it.
How is allergy testing performed?
Allergists use skin testing to figure out what you're allergic to. The allergist may either apply the allergens to broken skin, as in a skin prick test or an intradermal test, or to unbroken skin, as in a patch test.
The skin prick test is a simple procedure. The allergist will apply a variety of possible allergens to your back, and then prick your skin to allow the allergens to penetrate your skin. Within 15 to 20 minutes, you'll have the results. Areas of swelling and redness will indicate which, if any, of the substances you're allergic to. The intradermal test is similar; the only difference is that the allergens will be injected directly into your skin.
The patch test doesn't involve breaking your skin; instead, the possible allergens will be taped on to your skin. This is a good way to test for skin reactions, but the downside is that it takes a lot longer than the other methods. The allergens will be taped to your skin for 48 hours, and you won't have the results for 72 to 96 hours. If you want to know what you're allergic to right away, opt for the skin prick test or intradermal test.
Is this reaction serious?
Allergic contact dermatitis is not a life-threatening allergic reaction, and if it happens occasionally, it's mostly just inconvenient and uncomfortable. However, if you have extended exposure to an allergen, leading to chronic allergic contact dermatitis, you could have an increased risk of developing some types of skin cancer. Studies have shown that people who were constantly exposed to an allergen, like an implantable medical device that contains nickel, were more likely to develop squamous cell carcinoma.
If you have allergic contact dermatitis, it's important to take the reaction seriously and avoid the allergen responsible. Over time, this seemingly harmless rash can have serious effects.
Do lots of people have allergic contact dermatitis?
Allergic contact dermatitis is a very common problem, so doctors and allergists have a lot of experience dealing with it. Studies have shown that 21.2% of the general population suffers from it. It's common in both men and women, and it's more common in people who are heavy smokers.
Allergic contact dermatitis is a common allergic reaction that can be caused by any allergen that comes in contact with your skin. It's hard to figure out what's causing the allergy by yourself, so see your doctor right away and ask to be referred to an allergist. Once you know what you're allergic to, you can avoid it.