My sensitive skin diary

Top 10 allergens… And tips to avoid them

Even if you are pretty clued up on your allergies and know the triggers that set off sneezing, watering eyes, asthma and wheezing, or simply bring you out in blotches, make sure you take a careful look at your daily routine. Everyday habits can be a key source of allergen exposure.

1. Pollen

What it is: Pollen grains are tiny protein-studded structures released by different plants and trees at various times of year. Skin prick testing will pinpoint the pollen in question. The worst offenders? It depends on the region, but Timothy grass and beech tree are two of the most tested-for pollens.

What it causes: Pollen allergy causes problems such as conjunctivitis, hay fever and pollen-induced asthma. But did you know that pollen also disrupts skin’s protective barrier, allowing it to act as a direct skin irritant and allergen ?

What you can do: Your doctor can advise you on medications such as oral anti-histamines, eye drops and inhalers to help with symptoms. For sensitive skin, consider a barrier cream with an absolute minimum of ingredients to reinforce skin barrier.

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2. Cosmetics additives

What they are: Some cosmetics contain a host of additives such as parabens, lanolin and certain colorants, which can trigger allergic reactions. Another top offender is nickel, which many people don’t realize is found in certain cosmetics. If you are nickel-sensitive always look out for the label “nickel-controlled” on packs. See your allergist to ask about patch testing to track down your triggers.

What it causes: There are many different types of allergic skin reaction. Nonetheless, the key symptoms are itching and burning sensations.

What you can do: You don’t have to clear your bathroom shelves, but if you have allergic-type skin, do take a trip to the pharmacy as dermocosmetics are your go-to skincare. Discover Toleriane Ultra. Organic and natural products can sound like a safe option, but they might contain major allergens such as essential oils and fragrances. Click HERE for more information on how to avoid reactions to cosmetics.

3. House dust mite

What it is: Here’s where things get a little gross. House dust mite or Dermatophagoides is a microscopic arachnid that feeds on skin cells and is commonly found in bedding and carpets.

The droppings and exoskeleton (that’s body armor for insect-type creatures) of these mites can cause allergic reactions.

What it causes: Conditions such as allergic rhinitis, asthma and eczema. Skin reactions are also a big issue as dust mite releases substances that break down the skin’s barrier, making it more vulnerable to reactions.

What you can do: There are several practical tips worth trying if you or a family member has house dust mite allergy:

  • Use anti-dust mite bedding.
  • Wash bedding weekly and launder towels and bath mats after 2-3 uses. Use hot washes at 60°C to kill mites and always dry thoroughly.
  • Invest in a dehumidifier.
  • Air your bedroom for 30 minutes each day, especially in cold and dry weather.
  • Keep your home a little cooler: limit heating to 18 or 19°C.
  • Minimize dust by removing clutter and vacuuming regularly.
  • Opt for hard flooring rather than carpets.
  • Consider using home test kits such as the Acarex test® to pinpoint where your home or workplace could be contaminated with house dust mite.
  • Strengthen skin’s barrier with hypoallergenic dermocosmetics.
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4. Food allergy

What it is: Proteins in certain foods trigger an immune response in the mouth or gut that can potentially affect the whole body. Just 8 food types cause about 90% of food allergy reactions:

  • Milk
  • Eggs
  • Peanuts
  • Tree nuts, like walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, brazil nuts, and pecans.
  • Soy
  • Wheat and other grains with gluten, including barley, rye, and oats
  • Fish
  • Shellfish

What it causes: Food allergy can cause anything from mild itching of the mouth to skin rashes to full-blown anaphylactic shock. Since it’s a potentially dangerous form of allergy, an allergist consultation is in order.

What you can do: Your allergist will use specific tests to pinpoint the causes of your allergy, as well as offering advice on eliminating it from your diet and the need to carry an Epipen. Watch out for “hidden” sources of allergen: baked goods often contain egg and nuts, while tinned tuna and hotdogs may contain milk protein!

Could you 5 a day be affecting your allergies?

5. Gluten

What it is: Gluten is a group of proteins found in grains such as wheat, barley, rye and oats. It is also used in various products to give them a more elastic or “chewy” texture such as doughs (and even Play-Doh!).

What it causes: In predisposed individuals, gluten can cause different conditions that are not actually allergies per se. These include Coeliac disease and non-Coeliac gluten intolerance. In some rare cases, it is also possible to have a genuine gluten allergy.

What you can do: Your doctor can advise you on how to tailor your diet to your Coeliac disease, gluten intolerance or gluten allergy. There are many handy substitute products available on the market today to make a gluten-free life easier.

6. Drugs (medicines)

What it is: Drug allergy is an allergic reaction to medications prescribed to you by your doctor or bought over the counter. You can be allergic to any medication, but certain medications are frequently implicated:

  • Penicillin and related antibiotics
  • Sulfonamides (“sulfa drugs”)
  • Anticonvulsants (epilepsy medications)
  • Aspirin, ibuprofen and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Chemotherapy drugs

What it causes: Like food allergy, allergic reactions to drugs range from mild to serious. You may get a skin rash or hives, itching all over the body, breathing problems such as wheezing, swelling or even life-threatening anaphylaxis.

What you can do: If you have had a drug allergy, you should see an allergist for advice. It is essential that you inform every doctor you see of your drug allergy. A medical alert bracelet is also a good idea so healthcare professionals will always know about your allergy even if you can’t tell them.

7. Laundry detergent

What it is: We all know what laundry detergents are, but what allergens do they harbor? Essentially, they are fragrances (fresh and breezy isn’t always your best friend!), enzymes and irritants such as sodium lauryl sulphate.

What it causes: Allergy to laundry detergent can cause skin allergic reactions such as eczema, contact dermatitis and urticaria (hives). It can also cause itchy eyes and wheezing.

What you can do: Click HERE for tips on allergy-friendly laundry.

8. Animal dander (pets)

What is it: Fur, skin cells and saliva from our four-legged friends contain proteins that can set off allergic reactions.

What it causes: These household allergens can cause most allergic manifestations, such as allergic rhinitis, conjunctivitis, asthma and eczema.

What you can do: See an allergist to confirm the cause of your allergy. They will be able to advise you whether you are a candidate for desensitization therapies or “allergy shots.” It may also be possible to manage your symptoms with medications such as anti-histamines. However, if you are severely allergic, furry and fluffy friends may not be for you :(

9. Mold

What is it: Molds are fungi that can grow in damp places in our homes or work places. They release thousands of microscopic spores with the potential to trigger allergy.

What it causes: Since the spores are airborne, they cause symptoms similar to pollen allergy: itchy eyes, sneezing and wheezing, but also dry and scaling skin .

What can you do: Seeing an allergist is important to establish that mold truly is the cause of your symptoms. If it is, consider following the guidelines from the Environmental Protection Agency. In a nutshell, it’s all about reducing moisture to a minimum.

10. Fragrances

What is it: Over 2,500 fragrance ingredients are used in perfumes and a range of personal or home care products. They can sometimes cause skin irritations or allergic reactions. Key examples frequently tested for include cinnamal, geraniol and eugenol.

What it causes: Fragrances cause reactions typical of airborne allergens such as itchy eyes, sneezing and a worsening of asthma. They can also cause a range of allergic skin reactions, as well as headaches in some people.

What you can do: Fragrances are difficult to avoid due to their widespread use, but practical measures such as good ventilation should help. When it comes to skincare, the key is to source products safe for allergy-prone skin that are absolutely fragrance-free. Discover Toleriane Ultra.

Could your beauty or everyday habits be making your allergies worse?

Click HERE for basic information about allergies

* The Skin as a Route of Allergen Exposure: Part II. Allergens and Role of the Microbiome and Environmental Exposures. Knaysi, G., Smith, A.R., Wilson, J.M. et al. Curr Allergy Asthma Rep (2017) 17: 7. doi:10.1007/s11882-017-0675-4
** "New perspectives on epidermal barrier dysfunction in atopic dermatitis: Gene–environment interactions". www.sciencedirect.com.
*** http://acaai.org/allergies/types/food-allergy
**** http://www.aafa.org/page/mold-allergy.aspx
***** https://www.chemotechnique.se/products/mixes/fragrance-mix-i-/