Skin Allergies: What Your Doctor Will Do

When you break out in a rash, it's natural to wonder: Did I touch something I'm allergic to?

An allergist or dermatologist can help you figure it out. You probably don't need a doctor if you know your rash is linked to a specific trigger you can avoid, or if you have a mild reaction that clears up on its own.

But make an appointment if you have any doubts.

Testing for Skin Allergies

If you brush up against something and you get a rash, your doctor may tell you that you've got "contact dermatitis." It happens when your skin touches something you're sensitive or allergic to.

He’ll examine you and ask whether you recently came in contact with common allergy triggers like perfume, jewelry, or latex.

If he thinks an allergy may be the cause, you might get a "patch" test. He'll put patches on you that have tiny amounts of things that could cause an allergic reaction.

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 look at your skin to see if you have a reaction to anything. He may schedule another follow-up a few days later to check again.

In rare cases, he may want to do a blood test or a biopsy. For a biopsy, he’ll take a small sample of your skin for testing.

Treating Skin Contact Allergies

How you handle your condition depends on what causes it. Many times, you can simply avoid the things that trigger your symptoms. You can also use cold compresses, calamine lotion, or an oatmeal bath to soothe skin and relieve itchiness.

For small areas, your doctor may prescribe a steroid cream. Follow his instructions on how to put it on. It won't help if you use more or take it more often than he recommends.  

To get the most out of the cream, put it on after a bath or shower. If your reaction covers a larger area, your doctor may suggest steroid pills and antihistamines.

It's important to avoid your allergy trigger if you get hives (red, itchy welts on the surface of your skin) or swelling beneath your skin.

In case your doctor can't figure out the cause, he may recommend over-the-counter or prescription antihistamine pills.

If your skin gets infected because it's open and raw, you may need an antibiotic to clear it up. Symptoms of an infection include:

  • Swelling or redness
  • Heat
  • Pus
  • Tender, crusty skin

 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on April 13, 2016

Sources

SOURCES:

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology: "Contact Dermatitis: A Practice Parameter."

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases:  "Handout on Health: Atopic Dermatitis."

UptoDate.com: "Allergic Contact Dermatitis," "Patient information: Hives (urticaria) (Beyond the Basics)," "Patient information: Contact dermatitis (including latex dermatitis) (Beyond the Basics)."

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