Most people associate the term “allergies” with the sneezing, itchy, watery eyes and runny nose that happen in the spring and fall. But allergies can affect the whole body, especially the skin.
There are several common skin conditions that can be triggered by allergens. When this happens, the immune system responds with a range of symptoms, depending on the source of irritant. The best way to learn what is causing your specific reaction is to see an allergist who can help determine the source and best treatment.
Common Allergic Skin Conditions
Hives are itchy, raised, red welts on the skin that can come and go on any part of the body. Many times, they can be an acute reaction to something like drugs, food or insect bites. But bacterial infections or viruses have also been known to cause hives, in addition to exposure to heat, sunlight and the cold. Treatment may include a prescription for antihistamines if the condition does not resolve on its own. Angioedema can also be associated with hives, but it occurs in the deeper layers of skin, often on the eyelids, lips, hands, feet and tongue.
Dermatitis presents itself as an itchy, red, scaly rash, and more commonly as contact dermatitis or atopic dermatitis, which is also known as eczema. Contact dermatitis can be caused by either allergens or something that irritates the skin, like chemicals. Dermatitis related to irritants is usually located on the hands. To prevent further skin damage, limit exposure and use gloves for protection.
Allergic contact dermatitis results in red, itchy blisters, like what happens when poison ivy gets on the skin. Oil in the plant causes the reaction, and it can take one to two days for the rash to develop. Once an outbreak occurs, it can last for several weeks. Depending on the symptoms, over-the-counter remedies may work, but sometimes prescription steroids may be needed to fully treat the affected area. Other items that can cause contact dermatitis include perfumes, rubber/latex items and cosmetics.
Atopic dermatitis (eczema) is known to start from infancy through early childhood. It is considered a chronic issue and has been linked to food allergies and asthma. For some patients whose parents and grandparents suffered with severe eczema, it can be traced to inheriting a faulty skin gene. Red, itchy, raised patches can appear anywhere on the body and can be aggravated by sweating, dust mites, animal dander or environmental factors. Keeping the itch under control is important, as constant scratching can lead to infection. Anti-inflammatory ointments help prevent itching, but oral steroids may need to be used. If the doctor suspects an infection, antibiotics may be recommended.