There are several big allergy awareness days coming up in the next few months, although for some of us there is no getting away from allergies at any time of the year.
The UK has some of the highest prevalence rates of allergic conditions in the world, with 44% of British adults now experiencing at least one allergy and the number of sufferers is on the rise. From life threatening to lifestyle limiting, allergies can show themselves in a number of ways. And when they are displayed on the skin it can be painful as well as embarrassing for the sufferer.
Whether it be bumps, hives, itching, redness or other skin conditions, it is important that we have a better understanding of skin allergies, and learn how to recognise symptoms, avoid triggers, and most importantly find relief. Dr Daniel Glass from The Dermatology Clinic London, reveals some of the most common skin problems caused by allergies and how to prevent them.
Hives, also known as Urticaria, is a common skin condition affecting up to 20% of the population at some point in their lives. It can be distinguished by red, itchy bumps or wheals on the skin. “The symptoms can vary in size and severity, most lesions are short lived and fade with other new lesions appearing in adjacent areas of the skin,” explains Dr Glass. In about 90% of cases, the cause is unclear. However, in some circumstances it most commonly appears as a result of an allergic reaction, which can be contracted either by touch or ingestion.
“In urticaria, cells release a chemical called histamine into the body, which then causes the blood vessels to dilate and become more permeable, so that fluid seeps out into the skin, causing a rash,” says Dr Glass. “In some people, hives can be associated with swelling of other parts of the body, particularly around the eyes, lips and tongue. This is called angioedema and as it can affect the patient’s breathing and needs immediate treatment.”
Eczema affects around 10 to 20% of schoolchildren and 3 to 5% of adults in the UK. The condition involves an itchy inflamed rash and eczema is associated with other factors such as; dry skin and breaks in the skin, from scratching which can lead to infection.
“Eczema can be caused by genetic or external factors, some of which can be allergic in nature,” says Dr Glass. “Eczema can flare up when coming into contact with detergents, plants, perfumes, or certain medication. Sometimes the cause of allergy induced eczema is obvious, at other times, it can be difficult to distinguish.” If you think you are suffering from allergy-based eczema it’s worth keeping a detailed diary to pinpoint why flare ups may have occurred. “Carrying out allergy tests can also help discover the route of the problem,” adds Dr Glass.
Try to work out your skin allergy triggers
The symptoms of allergies come in many forms and vary from person to person. This means that when trying to treat and manage the condition, it is very important to look at the personal, external factors that could be affecting the skin. “For example, some people notice that their outbreaks are strongly linked to a change in weather, such as the drying effects of central heating, during colder months, which might provoke an outbreak,” says Dr Glass. “This is generally an irritant effect on the skin, rather than a true allergy. However, for others it might be due to make up or perfume, or even a chemical encountered at work, any of which could include ingredients that patients have become allergic to. Careful history taking and examination of the rash is essential, followed by allergy testing if appropriate.”
How to treat a skin allergy
Avoiding the allergen is the best way to treat a skin allergy as the skin will remain unharmed if you do this. “Some allergies can be controlled with over the counter medication, but if this doesn’t seem to be doing the trick, make an appointment with a dermatologist,” recommends Dr Glass. A dermatologist can try to help ascertain the causes of these allergies by testing with either skin patch tests, prick tests or blood tests and can help improve your skin care routine to improve the skin barrier and try to reduce flares of allergies such as eczema, as well as decreasing the number of allergens getting through the skin.
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“Once any allergens have been defined, your dermatologist will give you information on the allergens and where they can be encountered and other names of similar chemicals that might also be problematic,” says Dr Glass. To minimise allergic reactions, ensure you check the labels of the skin products you use and any other chemicals that come into contact with your skin including things like washing products, clothing fibres and also cosmetic products.
If you found this helpful, here’s the science behind glycation which can be a sneaky culprit that’s often responsible for dry skin. And, a top make-up artist reveals her expert tips for covering up symptoms of a cold – which often mirror allergy symptoms.