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Allergies Health Center

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Frequently Asked Questions About Allergies

What Does It Mean When a Product Is Labeled "Hypoallergenic"?

"Hypo" means "under" or "less than," so "hypoallergenic" means a product is less likely to trigger an allergic reaction.

Many products that we use every day, such as cleansers and soaps, deodorants, makeup, and even mouthwash, have ingredients that can irritate the skin or act as antigens (substances that act as an allergy trigger). Exposure of the skin to these ingredients -- most often fragrances and chemicals used as preservatives -- can lead to a condition called contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis appears as areas of redness, itching, and swelling on the skin, and sometimes as a rash or blisters.

Many manufacturers of cosmetics and cleaning supplies now market their products as "hypoallergenic," meaning the products do not contain ingredients that are known to cause irritation or allergic reactions. However, manufacturers are not required to prove the claim that their products are hypoallergenic and there are currently no regulations or standards for manufacturers to follow.

Although choosing products that are hypoallergenic may help reduce the risk of contact dermatitis, no product can guarantee never to irritate the skin or produce an allergic reaction. It's always a good idea to test any new product before you use it, especially if you have had skin reactions in the past. To test it, simply put a sample of the product on your inner wrist or elbow and wait 24 hours to see if a reaction occurs.

Can Allergies Be Cured?

Allergies cannot be cured but allergy symptoms can be treated and controlled. This may require making changes in your environment or behavior to avoid or reduce exposure to certain allergens. Medication also may help relieve allergy symptoms. Even with allergy treatment, your body's immune system may continue to react when exposed to allergens. In some cases, however, children may outgrow their allergies, particularly those to food.

Immunotherapy, in the form of allergy shots or oral tablets or drops, is not a cure. Rather, the shots are a way to significantly lessen the symptoms caused by exposure to specific substances.

How Does Stress Affect Allergies?

Stress is the body's response to conflict or situations, both internal and external, that interfere with the normal balance in life. Virtually all of the body's systems, including the digestive system, cardiovascular system, nervous system and immune system, make adjustments in response to stress. When you are feeling anxious or stressed, your body releases numerous hormones and other chemicals, including histamine. Histamine is a powerful chemical that can lead to allergy-like symptoms.

Stress does not cause allergies, but it can make an existing reaction worse by increasing the level of histamine in the bloodstream.

 

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Jonathan L Gelfand, MD on May 14, 2012

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