You understand the difference between skin disorders and allergic skin conditions. Now it’s time to get the 411 on the top 3 skin allergies you need to know about (you know, just in case).
Photosensitivity: Photoallergies & Phototoxicity
Extreme photosensitivity can result in either a phototoxic or photoallergic reaction, the former of which is more serious. Being photoallergic basically means that your body treats photons as allergens, which your immune system rejects. Symptoms of photoallergies are very similar to those of eczema, but can take a long time to disappear after treatment.
Phototoxicity, on the other hand, does not involve your immune system and happens when you use a product (usually a topical one) such as fragrance, painkillers, sunscreen, chemotherapy drugs and antimicrobials. After taking or applying the substance and going out into the sun, exposure to UV rays actually changes the substance’s chemical structure and makes it toxic. Phototoxicity produces hyperpigmentation, usually a deep redness called erythema.
An outbreak of hives happens when something makes your immune system release a massive amount of histamines. This “something” could be anything from an allergen like food and medication to non-allergic causes like exercising and heat. It just depends on the person.
Hives can be either chronic or acute. Angioedema is a much more serious condition that results when hives swell up in the deeper layers of the skin, usually soft tissue areas like the genitals or eyelids. Hives can be treated by an antihistamine, but angioedema is much more serious, the treatment of which should be overseen by a skilled allergist.
Allergic Contact Dermatitis
Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when your skin negatively reacts to an external allergen. This type of allergic skin condition is the one that we tend to automatically think of when someone says, “skin allergy”. Common allergens include nickel, poison oak and ivy, certain foods and fragrances, pet dandruff and more.
How Does an Allergic Skin Condition Develop?
This is how it goes down: after you’re exposed to the allergen, your immune system decides to reject it, marking it as foreign and triggering inflammation in response. The length of time that you experience an allergic reaction depends on your level of sensitivity, genetic disposition and the amount/duration of time exposed to the allergen. Symptoms are much broader than hives or photosensitivity and can include itching, red bumps or rashes, blisters, swelling and dry or cracked skin.
How to Handle an Allergic Skin Problem
If you think you have any of the above allergic skin problems, definitely see a dermatologist for treatment. You’ll want to know whether the condition is chronic or a one-time mishap. You’ll also probably want to take an allergy test (these are usually administered by allergists) so that you can avoid the allergens in the future.