Studies over the past few years have shown pollen counts that are on the rise, resulting in an increased rate of seasonal allergies year after year. With all the uncomfortable symptoms of allergies, we rarely think about the ways our skin might be reacting too.
Few things are more uncomfortable during the changing seasons than the sneezing, runny nose, and itchy eyes that make an appearance. The fact is, airborne pollen shows up in every season, not just spring. With a warming climate, plants are producing multiple types of pollen due to increased carbon dioxide.
Pollen affects people differently, so symptoms of seasonal allergies aren’t always easy to spot. An allergy test (the specific IgE test or the skin prick test) might indicate what types of pollen or ragweed you’re allergic to. But these tests won’t necessarily tell you all the ways your body reacts to them.
Hay fever, or allergic rhinitis, affects millions of Americans. It’s typically accompanied by watery eyes, sinus congestion, and respiratory issues due to increased histamine production. If you’re dealing with one of the following conditions, hay fever could be the culprit.
While breathing in pollen can irritate the nasal passages and lungs, simply coming into contact with airborne pollen can irritate the skin. Dark circles or puffiness under the eyes, known as allergic shiners, are a very common symptom of hay fever. When the small veins around the eyes swell and dilate due to congestion, the blood that collects can cause spots that look like bruises.
If you spend time outside and notice itching or red welts afterward, you may be having an allergic reaction resulting in hives. Hives usually appear as raised red bumps that may change shape or size rapidly. Sometimes they look more like a burn than a rash. If you press on the area lightly, the welts tend to turn white. They might disappear on their own once exposure to the allergen is eliminated, disappear and then reappear hours later, or continue to worsen over time.
If you suffer from eczema -- or atopic dermatitis -- this might also become inflamed with hay fever. Atopic dermatitis differs from contact dermatitis in that it’s not a reaction to chemical exposure. Rather, it’s a genetic mutation occurring in people who are predisposed to allergic reactions. Eczema can appear as itchy, cracked, flaky, red skin. It’s often very sensitive and even painful to the touch.
Tracking your symptoms is the first step to narrowing down the cause. Notice what time of day rashes happen and what activities you’ve done in the past 24 hours. Have you spent increased time outdoors? Note the weather -- has the temperature increased or decreased significantly over the last couple of days? You can also look up the daily pollen count for your area.
If you’re reacting to airborne allergens, you’ll want to eliminate any other triggers that increase histamine. Cut out sugar and alcohol, increase your water intake, and minimize stress. Shower regularly and wash your hair. If you spend a lot of time outside, change your clothes once you come in and throw your worn clothing in the laundry right away. Wash your sheets at least once a week, and your pillowcases every 2 days, in hot water.
In the case of hives, you may need to take an antihistamine like Benadryl. Apply a cold compress on the rash and wear loose-fitting clothes or keep the area uncovered. Treating eczema involves using a thick or prescription moisturizer, limiting exposure to hot water, and using mild soaps and detergents. Allergic shiners may require OTC or prescription eye drops or nasal sprays. Wearing sunglasses outside and using a humidifier at night can help keep the eye area protected and hydrated.
If you’re in the greater New York City area, Vanguard Dermatology’s experts can help you get to the root cause of your skin conditions. If seasonal allergies are at play, we’ll create a treatment plan for you so you can kick irritated skin to the curb.