Year after year, seasonal allergies continue to get worse as more people react to higher pollen counts. From itchy, watery eyes to a scratchy throat or cough to sneezing and a runny nose, fall allergies can hit hard. But what are some ways that these same allergens affect the skin, and how can you treat any irritation you experience?
Airborne pollen is increasing, and the number of plants producing multiple types of pollen is increasing too due to rising carbon dioxide. Whether you react to this pollen or don’t is largely dependent on your body’s processing of the incoming stimuli as a threat or not. An allergy test (commonly the IgE test or the skin prick test) will indicate what specific types of pollen or ragweed you’re allergic to.
If you’re indeed allergic to a certain type or multiple types of pollen, your immune system will recognize those pollens as allergens and produce an immune response. This response includes inflammation, which usually comes in the form of allergic rhinitis or hay fever. That’s where the watery eyes and runny nose come into play, but for many, the trouble doesn’t stop there. Coming into contact with airborne pollen can also greatly irritate the skin.
Allergic hives typically appear as raised red bumps or wheals (either one or many) that may change shape or size rapidly. If you press on the area lightly, the wheals tend to turn white. Sometimes, they disappear on their own once exposure to the allergen is eliminated. Other times, they might disappear and then reappear hours later or continue to worsen over time. Occasionally, in the case of a severe allergy, allergic hives can be accompanied by anaphylaxis, resulting in closing of the throat. It’s critical to see a doctor immediately if you’re having trouble breathing during a hives outbreak.
Allergic dermatitis, also known as eczema, can occur in conjunction with higher pollen counts during fall. Since eczema is produced by an inflammatory immune response, this is another common problem in the autumn season. Eczema usually appears as cracked, patchy red or brownish skin. It’s often itchy, sensitive, and even painful to the touch.
If you’re repeatedly suffering from skin conditions that you suspect are related to fall allergens, it’s a good idea to get an allergy test to determine your specific triggers. You can then do your best to avoid those triggers -- usually by avoiding excess amounts of time outdoors during peak pollen count days or taking an oral antihistamine prior to going outside. You may need to take an antihistamine daily throughout the season when the pollen you’re allergic to is most prevalent.
In the case of allergic hives, you should take an antihistamine like Benadryl as soon as possible after noticing the outbreak. You can also apply a cold compress on the rash and wear loose-fitting clothes or keep the area uncovered. Treating allergic dermatitis often requires using a thick or prescription moisturizer and limiting exposure to hot water.
In all cases, use mild soaps and detergents and gentle cosmetic products. Shower regularly and wash your hair. If you spend a lot of time outdoors, change your clothes once inside and throw your worn clothing in the laundry right away. Wash your sheets at least once a week and your pillowcases every two days in hot water.
If you’re in the greater New York City area, contact Vanguard Dermatology today. Our board-certified specialists can help with all types of skin irritation from fall allergies.