Wondering if your nagging cold is actually an allergy? Or what about your
new skin cream that made your hands break out? Distinguishing an allergy from a
non-allergic condition is not always a clear-cut task. But knowing the
difference can sometimes help you solve what's ailing you, which in turn could
mean faster relief.
Mary Fields knows just how difficult pinpointing an allergy can be. The
64-year-old Bronx resident tells WebMD she was convinced her frequent hives
were caused by something...
a rash is clearly linked to a specific trigger that you can avoid
you have a single, mild reaction that clears up on its own
But if you’re unsure about anything, call your doctor.
Testing for Skin Contact Allergies
A skin contact allergy -- also called contact dermatitis -- occurs when something touches your skin that you are sensitive to or allergic to. Your doctor may suspect a skin contact allergy based on your medical history and a physical exam. You’ll be asked if you’ve recently been exposed to common allergens like perfume, jewelry, or latex.
If your doctor thinks you have a contact allergy, you may have a patch test. For this test, tiny amounts of things that could cause an allergic reaction are placed on patches and taped to the skin on your back. They have to stay dry, so you can’t shower or bathe during the test period. You need to avoid sweating, too. After 48 hours, your doctor will check your skin to see if you have a reaction to anything. He may schedule another follow-up to check again in a few days.
Rarely, your doctor may want to do a blood test or skin biopsy, where a small sample of skin is taken for a test.
Treating Skin Contact Allergies
Treatment for skin contact allergies depends on what’s causing them. Many times, you can simply avoid the trigger. Use cold compresses, calamine lotion, or an oatmeal bath to soothe skin and relieve itchiness.
For small areas of skin, your doctor may prescribe a steroid cream to help treat symptoms. Use it only as often as directed. Using more than recommended, or using it more often, won’t make it work any better. Try applying it after a bath or shower to get the biggest benefit. If the reaction covers a larger area of skin, you doctor may prescribe steroid pills and antihistamines.