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What Does Skin Allergy Look Like? [ & 5 Tips to Get Rid of It ]

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This article is medically reviewed on August 20, 2020 by:

Picture of Rina Allawh, MD, FAAD

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What are the symptoms of skin allergy?

What does skin allergy look like?

How to get rid of skin allergy?

Even though children are more predisposed to skin allergies than adults (as their skin barrier is not fully developed), various types of skin allergies affect a large number of adults every year.

In fact, being predisposed to skin allergy is strongly related to factors like age, genetics, skin type, diet, and environment. Allergies affecting the skin can appear suddenly and some of them may even require immediate medical attention, so it’s essential to know how to identify them as soon as possible.

This article will help you recognize the different types of skin allergies, guiding you through their symptoms, causes, and possible treatment methods!

Let’s get started!

What are the symptoms of skin allergy?

The severity and variety of skin allergy symptoms often vary between individuals and depend on the cause for the skin condition. However, the general symptoms of skin allergy include: Itchiness

  • Burning sensation
  • Swelling
  • Redness
  • Cracking
  • Tightness
  • Bumps
  • Rash
  • Flaky skin

In fact, those symptoms are usually caused either by direct skin cells damage or a strong immune response. In the second case, your immune system considers the allergens (e.g., materials, insect bites, pollen) as threats to your body and “attacks” those, causing the unpleasant skin conditions mentioned in the list above.

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What does skin allergy look like?

Usually, the symptoms can last from a few hours to up to 2 weeks, but they also may become more persistent (and even chronic), depending on the type of allergic reaction.

According to the American Academy of Allergic Asthma and Immunology, there are 3 main types of skin allergies– hives (and angioedema), contact dermatitis, and eczema (atopic dermatitis). [1]

Let’s see each of those in more detail.

Hives

Hives affect about 20% of people at some point in their lives. [2]

They are red, itchy and swallowed areas of skin that can vary in size and color (some can be more pinkish while others can be bright red or without any color). This allergy may also be acute (symptoms go away in a few days or weeks) and chronic (symptoms come and go for a few months or years).

Acute hives can be triggered by insect bites, certain foods (like peanuts), climate, sun exposure, viral or bacterial infections, plants, and other internal and external factors. And while acute hives may go away quickly after you limit your exposure to the cause, chronic hives don’t always indicate allergic reaction to a specific factor.

Angioedema is another skin condition that often occurs together with hives (but it may also occur alone). It affects mainly eyes, lips, tongue, hands, or feet. You can recognize angioedema as the deep layers of skin are swollen, but the area is not itchy, nor red.

That being said, if you have hives or angioedema, it’s a good idea to consult your healthcare provider, a board-certified dermatologist, or allergist.

Contact dermatitis

There are two types of contact dermatitis: irritant and allergic. [3]

While irritant contact dermatitis occurs when skin cells are damaged after repeated exposure to allergens (e.g., cosmetic ingredient, plant, detergents, jewelry), allergic dermatitis is caused by immune response 24-48 hours after allergen exposure.

You can recognize irritant dermatitis, as it is more painful than itchy, when compared to the allergic dermatitis that often leads to very itchy and blistered skin areas. [4]

The severity of contact dermatitis symptoms increases with the length of exposure to the irritating factors.

Eczema (atopic dermatitis)

Atopic dermatitis is usually chronic (symptoms come and go for years) and affects people since early age. The specific cause for this skin allergy is often unknown. However, according to American Academy of Dermatology, genes, environmental factors (low temperatures, living in a city, or in a damp location, stress, pollution), as well as predisposition to hay fever and asthma may play a role in developing this skin condition. [5]

The most well known eczema symptom is rash, but in fact, rash occurs because of persistent skin scratching. That being said, atopic dermatitis is usually a very itchy condition and scratching the skin may lead to scaling, swelling, oozing, or even bleeding (where the skin is open). In those cases eczema can make your skin both itchy and painful.

How to get rid of skin allergy?

The advice from Dr. Allawh (Board-Certified Dermatologist):

Recognize potential triggers for skin allergic reactions and eczema.

1. Irritating substances These are substances that we may be exposed to on a day-to-day basis that may trigger hand eczema. Most commonly, hand and dish soap, shampoo, cleaning agents (surface cleaners and disinfectants), body washes, detergents, and fragrances. Certain professions are more likely to be exposed to higher concentrations of these potentially irritating substances. For example, caterers, hairdressers, childcare workers, construction workers, janitors, domestic cleaners and healthcare professionals are more at risk of skin allergic reactions, specifically on the hands.

2. Stress Physical and emotional stress may trigger rashes. Stress can impact the skin in different ways including harming the skin barrier, reducing skin hydration, increasing the number of bacteria on the skin and slowing down the healing of cuts and wounds. Stress can cause an increase in the primary stress hormone, cortisol, which causes more inflammation, itching and redness.

Managing skin allergic reactions and eczema:

1. The first step in treatment is avoiding or minimizing exposure to potential triggers. Understanding what are the triggers for your hand eczema and protecting the hands will help reduce further skin irritation.

2. Moisturization is essential.Frequent moisturization with a fragrance-free hand cream after exposure to water, irritating substances, showers and throughout the day will help reduce skin redness, scaling and inflammation and help minimize new patches from forming. Ointments and creams can be more effective in locking in skin moisture.

Skin allergies can be persistent and difficult to get rid of (especially if they are chronic). Here you can find 5 tips on how to help your skin heal faster:

  • Speak to your dermatologist

Board certified dermatologists can diagnose your skin condition and identify what particular type of allergy you are experiencing. They can also prescribe you topical and oral medication to stimulate the healing process and give you personalized tips on how to take care of the affected skin area. That being said, consulting your dermatologist is probably the most efficient and worry-free way to get rid of the allergy.

Besides, your dermatologist will ensure that your skin condition is not associated with a more disturbing health condition like Human Papilloma Virus HPV or another viral infection.

  • Identify the allergy cause/factor

Even though it might be difficult, you can identify the cause for your skin allergy. Looking at the environmental factors, personal care products, and diet, can help you point out the probable allergens. If you know what caused you the symptoms, it will be easy to stay away from it and help your skin heal.

  • Stay away from food allergens

If you have identified the reason for your skin allergy, that is great! But do not forget to stay away from foods that can intensify your allergy symptoms. Those include nuts, chocolate, wheat, legumes, soy products, milk, eggs, and most canned foods. [6]

  • Cleanse your skin

Gently cleansing your skin (without stripping its natural oils) is important, especially if you have an allergy. Often, skin allergies are related to damaged skin barrier, which makes the skin cells very vulnerable to bacteria and microbes that may cause additional inflammation. That being said, cleansing your skin with lukewarm water and a gentle cleanser (e.g., sulfate-free one) can help your skin repair it’s lipid barrier and recover its natural protection.

  • Do NOT use new cosmetic products

Nowadays, personal care products contain many cosmetic ingredients that we don’t know much about. In that sense, various ingredients can be considered allergens and different combinations of those can cause skin allergy or intensify the symptoms of an already present allergic reaction. That is why, it’s a good idea to avoid using cosmetic products that you haven’t tried before (unless you get a prescription from your dermatologist).

Find out more: Does Honey Improve Skin? [ 5 Evidence Based Skin Benefits ]

Frequently asked questions about skin allergies:

What are the symptoms of skin allergy?

Common symptoms of skin allergies include burning sensation, itchiness, rash, redness, swelling, flaky and cracking skin, skin bumps. Keep in mind that the severity of these symptoms and their combinations with other symptoms can be different from one person to another.

Is skin allergy contagious?

All types of skin allergies (hives, dermatitis, and eczema) are not contagious. They are usually caused either by a strong immune response to an irritant or by damaged skin barrier. However, if your rash or eczema is caused by bacteria or virus, it may only imitate allergy symptoms and actually be another skin condition that is contagious. Consult your dermatologist to get accurate and timely diagnosis.

Is skin allergy a symptom of covid 19?

As COVID-19 is a new type of virus, the research studies are not conclusive on this topic. Yet, evidence suggests that skin rash and hives (most commonly occurring on fingers, feet, and toes) can be a symptom of Coronavirus. However, it’s important to mention that large number of people experience rash and eczema due to frequent use of disinfectant and hand sanitizers in the times of the pandemic (therefore, are not symptoms of the virus). If you experience any symptoms of COVID-19, quarantine yourself and immediately contact your local healthcare authorities.

Does skin allergy go away?

The symptoms of skin allergy can go away on their own as soon as you limit your exposure to the allergen that caused the allergic reaction.

How to treat skin allergy?

The most effective treatment for skin allergy is moisturizing. Using hypoallergenic (and fragrance-free) moisturizer or ointment can boost the skin cells replenishment and support skin healing.

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