According to an article published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (IJERPH), skin allergies account for almost half of the reported allergy cases in the USA.
With the numbers rising every day, one may think, what causes this problem? What are the proper skin allergy treatments, if any?
To have a comprehensive outlook on the topic, we should first see what allergies are.
Our bodies are exposed to millions upon millions of foreign pathogens daily. They might have made you deathly ill if not for the defense mechanism of your body, i.e., the white blood cells.
Your blood has a peculiar yet remarkable army of white blood cells that effectively recognize, adapt, and eliminate any foreign object that may have breached the body’s defense barriers.
These white blood cells recognize these foreign objects by a kind of protein “tag” on their surface called antigen. They target and eliminate any substance containing a different antigen other than the host’s body.
However, due to specific genetic or environmental mutations, this mechanism responds to non-pathologic objects like pollen grains.
Hence, we come to the word allergy. Allergy is the body’s attack response against a non-pathological object. These objects usually include pollen grains, latex, molds, and animal fur.
How Do They Work?
A single cytokine (a family of certain messengers released by the cell), histamine, is responsible for pretty much all the effects that you experience during an allergic reaction. There are mast cells and basophils in your body that are responsible for secreting this chemical.
The primary function of histamine is to increase the permeability of your blood vessels. So that white blood cells can enter and fight the invading pathogen in the tissue.
When a foreign antigen enters the body, the memory cells of the white blood cells recognize them as not their own. As a result, they evoke the histamine-producing cells of the white blood cells (basophils and mast cells), and the histamine production in the body goes haywire.
A person starts oozing out fluids from places such as the nose and the eyes. Allergic responses also show uncontrollable sneezing and coughing.
The histamines cause the contraction of muscles around the trachea, and the airway gets blocked. Consequently, a person starts choking and is at the risk of dying if not treated immediately!
Now that we have established what an allergy is and how it works, we can get to the reason behind skin allergies and their treatment.
If the allergic response against a foreign pathogen is predominantly seen on the skin, it is called a skin allergy.
Signs such as these are seen during a skin allergy:
- Scaly patches
Skin allergies are further divided into different classes based on causations:
Also known as atopic dermatitis, eczema is the most common skin allergy among children.
Scientists are not exactly sure what might cause this. Still, some theories suggest it is due to the “leakiness” of the skin barrier, which makes it more prone to drying out. In addition, the onset of eczema is because of mutation of a gene in the skin called “filaggrin”.
Eczema is caused by another group of cytokines called “leukotrienes”. Therefore, skin allergy treatments involving antihistamines are ineffective.
It is often related to other immune disorders such as
- Allergic rhinitis
- Food allergies
As the name suggests, contact dermatitis occurs when your skin comes into contact with a specific allergen; for example, some women show blisters and painful rashes after wearing jewelry. The likely culprit is the allergy to certain metals such as nickel, gold, or copper.
Painful reactions to poison ivy plant, poison oak, or poison sumac also come under contact dermatitis. The allergic process is triggered by the oily covering of these plants.
Contact dermatitis may also be triggered passively. For example, touching the cloth, pet, gardening tools coated with the antigen, or even low-quality beauty products may cause skin allergy.
Urticaria, also known as hives, is the painful swelling of your skin caused by histamine secretion. As mentioned before, due to specific allergens, histamines may be secreted by mast cells or basophil cells.
This causes increased permeability of the skin, leading to redness and swelling known as angioedema.
Hives are not contagious. There are two types of hives: acute and chronic.
Acute hives are instant and don’t last for very long. Specific non-allergic responses such as heat or exercise may also cause it. Some medications and insect bites are also seen causing skin allergies.
An allergic response does not cause chronic hives. However, the swelling may last up to months or years, leading to extreme discomfort and itching.
Skin Allergy Treatment
The treatment for skin allergies includes managing the pain and countering the cause of the allergy.
Antihistamines such as Omalizumab are used to manage an allergic response such as hives.
They reduce the swelling and pain by countering the excess histamines produced by the body. Consult your doctor about the dosage, and make sure to report any side effects (such as bruising at the site of the allergy rash) to the doctor.
The correct identification of skin allergy is also essential. Antihistamines may not provide a solution to histamine-independent allergies such as eczema.
Studies have shown that in allergies such as eczema, scratching may worsen the symptoms.
It is vital to manage the heat and itching by applying ointment and resist the temptation to scratch during a skin allergy. Topical creams have shown promising results in reducing inflammation during a skin allergy.
Sometimes using cotton clothing and bodysuits prove effective in managing the itching and scratching.
Heat and itching associated with a skin allergy are treated by icing the swollen spot.
Icing may provide a temporary skin allergy treatment by managing the pain.
It is common to get a sudden onset of skin allergy. However, without the knowledge and management of symptoms, it may prove even dangerous. Therefore, you should know what allergies you have and prevent the onset to maintain healthy skin.