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Skin Allergies: What Your Doctor Will Do

If you have severe or ongoing skin problems, it may be time to see an allergist or dermatologist. They can perform allergy tests and try to help you pinpoint what you’re allergic to.

You probably don’t need to see a doctor if:

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  • 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 Allergy

Your doctor may suspect a skin 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 skin 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 Allergy

Treatment for skin allergies depends on what’s causing your allergies. 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. And using it too much can damage your skin. 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.

For hives or swelling from angioedema, your doctor may recommend an over-the counter or prescription antihistamine pills. Anti-itch creams usually don’t help hives.  For severe hives, if antihistamines don’t work, your doctor may prescribe steroid pills.

If your skin gets infected because it is open and raw, you may need an antibiotic to clear it up. A lot of swelling or redness, heat, pus, or crusty skin may be signs of an infection.  

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Luqman Seidu, MD on October 24, 2012

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