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    Skin Allergies and Contact Dermatitis: The Basics

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    Something touches your skin, and your immune system thinks it's under attack. It overreacts and sends antibodies to help fight the invader, called an allergen. The result is a red, itchy rash where the substance landed.

    Your doctor calls this contact dermatitis. There are two types:

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    • Irritant contact dermatitis is caused by chemicals like harsh cleaners.
    • Allergic contact dermatitis is just like it sounds -- your body reacts to an allergy trigger.

    People who have allergies react to things that wouldn't bother most others.Anything from plants like poison ivy to dyes and fragrances found in everyday products might be allergens.

    You could also have an allergic reaction to something in the air that settles on your skin, like pollen, chemical sprays, powders, fibers, or cigarette smoke. This is called airborne contact dermatitis, and it mostly happens on your eyelids, head, and neck. It can be hard for doctors to diagnose because it doesn’t look that different from the other type.

    Skin allergies can also cause hives and swelling deep in your skin, called angioedema.

    If you can't avoid contact with an allergy trigger, you can usually treat the rash and ease the itching. And you can't pass it to anyone else.

    What Causes Skin Allergies?

    It takes at least 10 days to become sensitive to something after your first contact with it. You might even be able to touch something for years before you have an allergic reaction to it.

    But once you develop an allergy, you could have a reaction within a few minutes of coming into contact with it. Or it might take a day or two.

    The most common causes of skin allergies include:

    • Nickel, a metal used in jewelry and snaps on jeans, makeup, lotions, soaps, and shampoos
    • Sunscreens and bug sprays
    • Medications you put on your skin, like antibiotics or anti-itch creams
    • Fragrances
    • Cleaning products
    • Plants, including poison ivy
    • Latex, which is used in stretchy things like plastic gloves, elastic in clothing, condoms, and balloons
    • Chemicals

    You're more likely to have certain skin allergies if you a have skin condition like eczema (your doctor may call it atopic dermatitis), inflammation in your lower legs because of poor circulation, itching in your private parts, or you often get swimmer's ear.

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