Eczema, hives and other skin conditions are a common reaction in those who have a type of allergy called contact dermatitis. It may be caused by sensitivity to hair dyes or perfumes. It can result from wearing rings made from certain metals like nickel or gold.
According to a recent study at the Mayo Clinic, the top 10 likely skin allergens are:
1. Nickel in the form of nickel sulfate hexahydrate
2. Gold in the form of gold sodium thiosulfate
3. Balsam, a fragrance used in some perfumes and skin lotions
4. Thimerosal, which is a mercury compound used as a preservative in some vaccines
5. Neomycin, a common topical antibiotic
6. Some common fragrances used in foods, cosmetic products, insecticides, antiseptics, soaps, perfumes and dental products
7. Formaldehyde, used in paint and some cosmetic products
8. Cobalt chloride, a compound used in some medical products and elsewhere
9. Bacitracin, another topical antibiotic
10. Quaternium 15, a preservative used in some cosmetic products.
Other factors, such as bee venom, can also produce allergic reactions that manifest themselves as hives or other skin problems. Some food sensitivities such as to peanuts, may also cause hives.
In all cases, prevention is the best medicine. Usually, that means avoidance. Avoiding contact with substances that can contact the skin and produce an allergic reaction is the best course of action. Bee and wasp stings, or spider bites, can’t necessarily be avoided entirely. But one can improve the odds by avoiding certain areas or putting traps far from the front door or garden.
Fortunately, when allergic reactions do occur, there are numerous effective treatments.
Topical 1% hydrocortisone creams are one very common and effective over the counter treatment. This solution does work for millions. Gentle application and proper clothing to avoid wearing it off rapidly can provide symptomatic and even long-term relief.
Non-alkaline cleansers can be useful for symptom relief for those who suffer eczema. After the area is cleaned, it can help to apply corticosteroids to reduce swelling. Then apply moisturizing agents to prevent dryness and cracking. Since the skin is the body’s first line of defense against disease from germs, it may be necessary to take antibiotics to prevent secondary infections that can result from germs entering through skin cracks.
Sometimes, treatments from the inside are equally effective. Antihistamines such as Tagamet can be very useful. Even though the allergen may be very different from, say, that which causes hay fever (such as pollen), the treatment can be the same. That’s because the underlying immune system reaction is very similar. In both cases the body is overreacting and producing excess histamine.
In the nasal membranes, for example, that histamine creates openings in tissue that swell and release fluid, producing a runny nose. In skin tissue, the histamine causes a similar swelling action, with a resulting bump. So, an antihistamine that reduces the action of this natural biochemical can be an effective treatment for mild skin allergies.
For those who suffer more severe allergic reactions, there are more powerful treatments.
Oral or injectable steroids, such as prednisone, can be highly effective. But, as with all steroids, long term use can lead to undesirable side effects. They should be taken only on the advice of a physician after a professional diagnosis.
In those rare cases where the skin condition triggers severe anaphylaxis, epinephrine may be called for.