Rashes from allergic reactions

Common Skin Allergies

What is it?

Common skin allergies include eczema, contact dermatitis, hives and allergic dermatitis.

Who is affected?

Skin allergies affect many Americans. In 1997, contact dermatitis and other eczema were diagnosed at over 8.5 million physician office visits and 499,000 hospital outpatient visits. Hives affects 10 to 20 percent of the general population at some time in their lives, and allergic dermatitis is the most common skin condition in children younger than 11 years of age1,2.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms of these common skin conditions include itching (contact dermatitis, hives), itchy rashes (eczema and allergic dermatitis), oozing blisters (eczema), and swelling and redness (hives).

What can I do to prevent and treat it?

Take steps to reduce your exposure to allergens:

  • Vacuum and dust regularly.

  • Remove carpets from bedrooms and use throw rugs.

  • Use zippered, dust- proof covers for pillows, mattresses and box springs.

  • Confine the areas that pets are allowed in and groom them outdoors.

  • Avoid smoke from any sources.

  • Dry clothes in a clothes dryer on a high setting.

  • Stay indoors when mold spore and pollen counts are at a peak.

  • Use an air cleaner with a HEPA filter.

  • Wash off after outdoor activity to avoid bringing allergens into your home.

The following are examples of OTC medications that can be used to treat the symptoms of skin allergies:

Symptom relief Helpful medications Helpful medications Active ingredients* to look for in generic and name brand OTC products
Hives, rash (urticaria) Antihistamine Loratadine
Example: Alavert®

Diphenhydramine HCL
Example: Benadryl Allergy®

Insect bites and stings (where there is mild to moderate itching and no complications) Antihistamine

(tablet, spray)

Acetaminophen, Chlorpheniramine Maleate

* Active ingredients: ingredients in a medication that produce a therapeutic response

Note: This information is intended to provide readers with health information. The information provided is not a substitute for consultation with a healthcare provider. Brand names included on this Web page are provided for examples only. Their inclusion does not mean that they are endorsed by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.

BRUSSELS, BELGIUM, 15 December 2016 – Like a stubborn stain, the idea that wool is an allergen just won’t go away. Recent headlines about the uniforms of American Airlines flight attendants scapegoated the wool in the fabric even though the manufacturer’s standard uniform comprises more polyester than wool, and testing by the flight attendants union found detectable levels of chemicals commonly found in pesticides, fungicides and fertilizers.

Moreover, the union reported concerns that the manufacturing of the fabric, not its fibre content, was the source of the problem. Even so, the focus came down to wool “allergy.”

What would Martha Stewart do?

First, the facts. It is a common misconception that wool can cause an allergic reaction. Studies show that all fibres, not only wool, can provoke a prickle sensation on the skin if the fibre end is coarse enough. This prickle can be itchy and cause irritation, but it is not allergy.

While fine fibres bend and brush against the skin, coarse fibres tend to be more rigid and can trigger nerve endings in the skin’s surface.

The wool fibre exists in many levels of fineness, which is measured in microns. Most of the wool in clothing has an average diameter between 11.5 and 24 microns. Wool over 24 microns is generally used in interior textiles or outer-layer clothing that is not in contact with the skin.

Notably, so-called allergic reactions to wool garments have decreased within the last 50 years, coinciding with reduced use of many products previously used in the finishing stage of textile production.

New research shows wearing wool next to skin has significant benefits

Next, the news. Far from being an allergen, recent research conducted by The Woolmark Company has demonstrated that wearing superfine wool garments against the skin is therapeutic in the treatment of eczema (atopic dermatitis).

Dr Lynda Spelman of Queensland Institute of Dermatology says that participants in a study she conducted showed substantially reduced eczema symptoms when they wore superfine wool undergarments. None of the participants displayed an allergic or irritant reaction.

“We have seen substantial reductions in skin dryness, redness and itchiness and in the measured area of inflammation – and for a number of the patients, this is the first time a real solution to their condition has been presented,” Dr Spelman said.

She says the results appear to relate partly to the unique moisture management properties of wool.

“Wool is a hygroscopic fibre which has the ability to absorb up to 36% of its weight in water and create a thermal buffer between the skin and the external environment. The wool appears to be keeping the moisture content of the wearer’s delicate skin at the levels it should be, preventing it from becoming too dry and therefore reducing the risks of bacterial infection and the desire to scratch the itch.”

These findings are being documented and are due to be published in high-rating dermatological journals following peer review. Once published, The Woolmark Company and the International Wool Textile Organisation will take this message to the wool supply chain and consumer markets around the world.

“Many patients believed they were allergic to wool. However, we didn’t have a single patient withdraw from the study due to any types of intolerance of these superfine wools.” – Angus Ireland, The Woolmark Company

At a recent IWTO meeting in Biella, Italy, Woolmark Company Fibre Advocacy and Eco Credential Program Manager Angus Ireland described the progress being made in understanding wool’s effects on health and wellbeing.

“The traditional advice to eczema sufferers to indiscriminately avoid wool against the skin, based on early commentaries that failed to distinguish between wool fibre types, can now be modified to include superfine Merino as a recommended next-to-skin clothing choice,” Mr Ireland said.

“It’s interesting to note that in the studies conducted, many patients believed they were allergic to wool. However, we didn’t have a single patient withdraw from the study due to any types of intolerance of these superfine wools.”

About IWTO

With a world-wide membership encompassing the wool pipeline from sheep to shop, the International Wool Textile Organisation represents the interests of the global wool trade. By facilitating research and development and maintaining textile industry standards, IWTO ensures a sustainable future for wool.

For more information on wool and skin health, visit www.iwto.org/wool-skin

< Back to news headlines

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Some people break out in red bumps and lumps when wool touches their skin. However, in many cases, a reaction to wool isn’t due to allergies. Instead, direct skin contact with wool often causes irritation because of the slightly scratchy nature of some woolen clothing or because of chemicals in the fabric. The grade of wool and the type of garment also affects the chances of triggering allergy-like symptoms.


Wool is a natural fiber sheared from sheep and some goats. Once the wool is sheared from the animal, machines or human hands spin it into finer strands suitable for clothing and textiles. Wool sold in fabric stores comes in different grades. Fine grades, such as ultra-fine merino, tend to have softer, thinner fibers. These trigger fewer allergic-type reactions. Lower grades, such as carpet wool, have course, scratchy fibers. These can irritate the skin. Cheap, woolen clothes might also contain chemicals that can cause allergies.

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis occurs when a substance or fabric causes an allergic reaction on your skin. This can range from a light rash to blistering. The latter usually only occurs with chemical substances. Wool triggers contact dermatitis in some people, according to the McKinley Health Center. It may particularly affect sensitive skin areas, such as your wrists or underarms. In some cases, the contact dermatitis isn’t an allergic reaction but simply your skin reacting to irritation. Symptoms tend to occur in both cases.


Pain receptors on your skin determine how you respond to wool, according to Health Services at Columbia. Responses vary depending on your skin thickness, your age, the air temperature and skin moisture. For example, a young person tends to have thinner skin than a 30-year-old person. Thinner skin usually reacts more noticeably to wool and other irritations. In hot, damp conditions, your skin becomes more sensitive. The blood sits closer to the skin’s surface, meaning that scratchy fibers, such as coarse wool, cause more discomfort.


If you have an existing skin condition, such as psoriasis or eczema, you’re more likely to react to natural wool fibers. Scratchier items may irritate your condition and cause a flare-up on your skin, much like an allergic reaction. Some people experience breathing problems when wearing woolen clothing. If you have asthma or experience breathing difficulties in the presence of pet hairs or fibers, you might start wheezing if you wear wool.

Wool now is a trendy band of tissue that is an element of many goods: clothes, decorative elements for the house and even shoes. It attracts people by its long-term wear, durability, and its feature to keep warm for a long time. The source of this group of tissue is animal hair, in most cases this is fur of sheep, goats, llamas, camels.

Allergy Tests at Walk-In Lab

Statistics declare that the wool allergy is quite rare and sometimes it may be confused with the vulnerability of the skin.

The allergen is lanolin (wool wax), which is contained in alcohol. It is used for processing wool fabrics. Lanolin is also an ingredient, found in lotions, creams, and sprays, so if a person is allergic to the above elements, then chances of the wool allergy increase. Furthermore, allergens can be synthetic dyes.

To diagnose the wool allergy, an individual need to pass a special test in the hospital.

Wool Allergy Symptoms

Symptoms may be expressed on the skin:

  • A rash on the face and hands, it appears immediately after the contact with wool or a few days later;
  • Redness;
  • Atopic dermatitis is chronic allergic dermatitis.

Moreover, these symptoms may cause certain problems with eyes. For instance, the following issues occur:

  • Watery eyes;
  • Puffiness of eyes.

In addition to it, problems with the nasopharynx are obvious:

  • Sneezing;
  • Nasal congestion;
  • A runny nose.

In children symptoms of the wool allergy are tougher, there can be a complication in a form of eczema.

However, some people may mistakenly identify the wool allergy. The point is that woolen things can provoke the irritation of the skin, yet it will not be a manifestation of the allergy, or sneezing, which is often correlated to the wool allergy, can actually be an indication of the dust allergy. Moreover, people who feel distressed wearing woolen garments, in fact, may not be exposed to allergies. A human skin is prone to the annoyance because of coarse wool, the feasible option is that coarse wool may be altered into soft, for instance, cashmere, it is softer, more pleasant to the body and does not cause discomfort.

Wool Allergy Treatment

The remedy of this type of the allergy is trivial and presupposes consecutive steps:

  • Eliminate the contact with the allergen and seek a medical advice;
  • Antimicrobial moisturizers and ointments may be beneficial. The preferred way is to use antihistamines.

Considering prevention of this allergy, it should be noted that the implementation of these measures won’t be effortless, although they will help to sidestep symptoms of this allergy:

  • Try to wear things, containing little wool, they may not be as annoying as wholly-wool things;
  • Providing that the person has a delicate reaction to wool, it is advisable to carry a piece of wool fabric always, so that the individual will be able to assess the delicacy of the skin and its reaction during the process of choosing clothes or furniture items;
  • If there is no any opportunity to withdraw the favorite wool thing, then wear a shirt under the woolen sweater, it will contribute to avoiding irritation;
  • Select high-quality products, the wool content must be optimal;
  • In case of child’s allergies, replace all woolen garments;
  • Moisturize the baby’s skin with creams and lotions regularly;
  • If there is a severe allergic reaction, then buy items of 100% cotton, county or silk;
  • Before the use, be sure to wash the thing.

All in all, this allergy can’t induce death and even serious complications, so it is quite possible to live with it. The person has many options for evading the allergy and all of them are attainable. It is up to the person to decide which preventive measures to use, but in order to feel secure and comfortable, it is advisable to undergo a certain testing.

How to get rid of an allergic reaction on the face

Allergic reactions on the face can be triggered by something that is eaten, inhaled, or rubbed onto the skin. A person might develop an allergic reaction on their face for the following reasons:

Direct contact with an allergen

When the skin reacts after direct contact with a substance, this is called contact dermatitis. It is common on the hands and face.

This allergic reaction can occur after contact with:

  • soaps, detergents, and toiletries
  • makeup and other beauty products
  • metal jewelry
  • latex and rubber
  • solvents or chemicals
  • dust and soil
  • plants

Symptoms of contact dermatitis include:

  • hives
  • redness
  • itchiness
  • inflamed skin
  • small blisters in some cases

Symptoms usually appear within 48 hours, but they can appear almost immediately. The first exposure to a substance may not always elicit a reaction.

Non-seasonal allergies

Non-seasonal allergic rhinitis causes similar symptoms to hay fever but can be present all year round. It can be caused by:

  • dust mites, which are microscopic insects that live in beds, carpets, and soft furnishings
  • spores produced by mold and fungi
  • urine, saliva, and dead skin flakes (dander) of animals

Food allergies

Food allergies are caused by the immune system reacting incorrectly to a particular food or ingredient. They are more common in young children, but new food allergies can develop in adults too.

Food allergies can cause facial symptoms, such as:

  • red, itchy hives
  • swollen lips and eyes
  • a swollen tongue
  • breathing difficulties
  • pale or blue skin

Common food allergens include eggs, milk, nuts, and shellfish. However, any food can cause an allergic reaction, including fruits and vegetables.

In severe cases, food allergies can cause anaphylaxis.

Drug allergies

A person can also have an allergic reaction to certain medications, whether they are injected or swallowed. Symptoms are similar to those of food allergies and can also result in anaphylaxis.

Common drug allergies include:

  • penicillin and related antibiotics
  • non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin and ibuprofen
  • anticonvulsants
  • chemotherapy drugs

Hay fever

Share on PinterestItchy eyes, watering eyes, and pain around the nose may be caused by hay fever.

Hay fever, also known as seasonal allergic rhinitis, is an allergy to pollen. This is usually a reaction to tree, grass, or weed pollen. It is triggered when the pollen is inhaled or touches the face or eyes

Hay fever can have a big effect on the face, with symptoms including:

  • itchy, red eyes
  • watering eyes
  • itchy or irritated nose, mouth, throat, and ears
  • pain or pressure around the nose, forehead, and temples

Hay fever can also cause coughing and sneezing, a runny or blocked nose, headache, and tiredness.

Hay fever tends to affect people the most in the months of spring and summer when the pollen count is high.

Atopic eczema

Atopic eczema, which is also known as atopic dermatitis, is characterized by red, dry, itchy, skin. The rash can affect any part of the body, including the face.

Eczema is linked to dry skin and tends to run in families. It is more common in children but can also develop in adults of any age. It is usually a long-term condition and is prone to flare-ups.

Eczema flare-ups can be triggered by:

  • food allergies
  • dust mites
  • detergents, soaps, and toiletries
  • certain fabrics
  • changes in hormone levels, such as during periods or pregnancy
  • cold and dry weather

The severity and coverage of the rash vary among people. Scratching the rash can result in the skin oozing fluid. Scratching also increases the risk of infection.

Skin Allergy

What does a skin allergy look like?

There are several different types of skin allergy reactions that allergists treat.

Eczema (also commonly called atopic dermatitis) typically results in dry, sensitive skin. You may experience red itchy patches. Eczema can come and go over time, and flare-ups may crack, ooze, and itch severely. It is very itchy and can vary in severity from mild (just dry skin ) to severe (red, scaly, thick, fissured and oozing skin)

Hives (also known as urticaria) are raised itchy bumps. Typically hives appear reddish, and will “blanch” (or turn white) in the center when pressed.

Contact dermatitis is typically caused by exposure to an allergen or irritant. If you have red itchy bumps on your skin, especially at the site of contact with some potential irritant or allergen, you may be experiencing contact dermatitis.

If you suspect you have any of these conditions, your allergist can conduct an examination and do testing to help determine the cause of your skin reaction and can recommend treatment to help relieve your symptoms.

How can I relieve the itching from my skin rash?

Avoid scratching! Scratching your rash or hives can create more irritation and can lead to infection. Frequent baths followed immediately with adequate moisturization may help ease your discomfort.

Allergists are specially trained to help treat your condition. Your allergist may prescribe a cream or oral medication to help alleviate your discomfort. Antihistamines and moisturizing ointments can also help ease irritation and dryness. Recently, new medications have been approved, including an ointment for mild to moderate atopic dermatitis and a biologic for moderate to severe atopic dermatitis. You can discuss these options with your allergist.

I haven’t changed anything about my usual routine – what could be causing my skin rash or hives?

There are many possible causes for your skin rash. Some types of rashes are caused by allergies, others may be caused by infections, skin conditions such as eczema or rosacea, or even just dry or damaged skin. Your allergist can help diagnose the cause of your symptoms and prescribe treatment to help you take control and find relief.

Should I stay out of the sun until my rash or hives are gone?

If your skin is already irritated or sensitive, exposure to UV rays and possible sunburn could cause you more discomfort. Take control of your condition by covering up and minimizing your time in direct sunlight.

In addition, some types of skin rash can be caused by the sun. Photoallergic contact dermatitis occurs when your skin has a reaction to an irritant or allergen after exposure to the sun. Cosmetics, sunscreen, shaving lotion, and perfume can trigger this kind of reaction.

Consult with your allergist to determine the cause of your skin reaction and the best course of treatment.

Could my skin reaction be caused by a food allergy?

Yes! A reaction to a food allergen can cause you to have a skin reaction like hives.

There are many possible causes for hives and rashes, so consult with your allergist to determine the cause of your symptoms and the best course of treatment.

Types of Drug Reactions & Hives


A drug reaction is a skin condition—such as an itchy or tender bump, rash, or blister—that develops when the body reacts adversely to medication. Another name for this is “drug hypersensitivity,” because the body is thought to have an overly sensitive response to medication.

A person of any age can experience a drug reaction. There is no way to prevent it unless you know that you’re sensitive to a particular medication. Most people recover fully without any permanent damage to the skin, though symptoms may persist for a few days or weeks after you stop taking the medication that caused the reaction.

There are many different types of drug reactions, and many of them are rare. Dermatologists at NYU Langone have the expertise to distinguish between different types of drug reactions, often just by looking at the skin and learning more about your medical history.


The most common type of drug reaction is hives, also known as urticaria. They are raised, swollen, red or flesh-colored bumps or welts that appear on the skin. They can take on many shapes and can be very itchy. They usually develop in groups and may cover large areas of skin. Hives can affect any part of the body.

Most of the time, hives indicate an allergic reaction. They appear when the immune system releases a chemical called histamine after you have been exposed to an allergen. Histamine causes blood vessels to widen and skin to swell. A welt typically appears quickly—sometimes within minutes of exposure to a substance that causes a reaction. It usually fades within hours.

In a drug reaction, a medication triggers the release of histamine. Hives may also develop as a result of an allergic reaction to food, an insect bite, or even hot and cold temperatures.

A breakout of hives may be acute and last for fewer than six weeks, or it may be chronic and last for six weeks or more. During this time, the hives may come and go. An individual welt rarely remains on the skin for more than 24 hours. In a flare-up, welts may appear, then disappear, all over the body.

If you repeatedly scratch the welts, raised, red lines may appear. This is called dermographism. It usually fades within hours.

Sometimes hives cause swelling in deeper layers of the skin. This is called angioedema. It may lead to severe swelling in the lips, face, eyelids, genitalia, or hands.

Often, angioedema occurs at the same time as hives. In rare instances, angioedema causes swelling in the throat and airway and may restrict breathing and swallowing. If you develop these symptoms, our doctors recommend seeking medical attention at the nearest emergency room.

Morbilliform Drug Eruption

Morbilliform drug eruption, or reaction, is a skin rash that develops after exposure to certain medications, usually antibiotics like penicillin or cephalosporin. A morbilliform rash is composed of flat pink or red spots that may merge or become raised as the rash spreads.

A morbilliform rash often appears on the chest and back first. It then spreads to the arms, neck, and, finally, the legs. Sometimes the rash is itchy, and you may develop a mild fever.

A morbilliform rash may not appear for one or two weeks after starting a new medication. If the rash occurs, the medication should be stopped as soon as possible. The rash may persist for several days to weeks after you discontinue the medication, then it fades. Usually, the rash disappears from the top of the body first and the legs and feet last. The skin may peel, like a sunburn, as it heals.

Drug Reaction with Eosinophilia and Systemic Symptoms

A drug reaction with eosinophilia and systemic symptoms is a rare but serious condition that affects the skin as well as internal organs, such as the liver, lungs, kidneys, and heart.

Symptoms may not appear for two to six weeks after taking the medication that causes the reaction. There are many medications that may trigger an adverse reaction, including anticonvulsant medications, antipsychotic medications, and sulfonamide medications, which are prescribed to treat a variety of medical conditions, including inflammatory bowel disease.

The skin rash associated with this type of reaction looks similar to a morbilliform eruption. It is usually red, flat, and itchy, and it may cover large areas of skin. There is often swelling in the face, hands, and lymph nodes. Many people also have a fever.

Other signs include an elevated number of eosinophils, a type of white blood cell that is produced as a reaction to foreign substances. This type of drug reaction can affect internal organs, most commonly the liver.

Stevens-Johnson Syndrome

Stevens-Johnson syndrome is a rare and serious type of drug reaction that causes skin blistering all over the body, including the mouth, eyes, and genitals. A person diagnosed with this condition may be admitted to a hospital for immediate treatment.

The blisters caused by Stevens-Johnson syndrome affect the top layers of skin and are shallow. The skin breaks easily and may bleed or ooze fluid. If the condition progresses to affect more than 10 percent to 30 percent of the body, it may be considered toxic epidermal necrolysis, a condition in which large areas of skin separate from the body, forming open wounds that are at risk of becoming infected without treatment.

Several medications have been associated with this type of drug reaction, most commonly anticonvulsants, sulfonamides, and antipsychotics. Rarely, the cause is nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, aspirin, or naproxen.

Stevens-Johnson syndrome may lead to scarring and inflammation inside the eye or conjunctivitis, which is redness and irritation of the thin, clear tissues that line the eye and the inside of the eyelid. Everyone with Stevens-Johnson syndrome should be evaluated by an ophthalmologist. He or she can determine the appropriate treatment.

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