I had the opportunity to interview Tonya Winders, CEO of Allergy & Asthma Network (www.aanma.org)
Can reactions to food allergies affect your skin?
Eczema is a chronic skin condition that usually begins in infancy or early childhood and is often associated with food allergy, allergic rhinitis and asthma.
Certain foods can trigger eczema, especially in young children. Skin staph infections can cause flare-ups in children as well. Other potential triggers include animal dander, dust mites, sweating, or contact with irritants like wool or soaps.
Preventing the itch is the main goal of treatment. Do not scratch or rub the rash. Applying cold compresses and creams or ointments is helpful. It is important to avoid all irritants that aggravate your condition. If a food is identified as the cause, eliminate it from your diet.
Corticosteroid and other anti-inflammatory creams that are applied to the skin are most effective in treating the rash. Antihistamines are often recommended to help relieve the itchiness. In severe cases, oral corticosteroids are also prescribed. If a skin staph infection is suspected to be a trigger for an eczema flare-up, antibiotics are often recommended.
Are there common allergens to avoid in beauty products?
The purpose of cosmetics and toiletries is to make us look good and feel clean. They are used safely by millions of people of all ages worldwide. While many people have no problem, mild rashes and irritation may be quite common and under-recognized. Irritant and allergic reactions may occur.
Irritant reactions reflect a damaging effect of the cosmetic or toiletry on the skin – an example would be the effect of too much soap or shampoo on the skin leading to chapping, dryness and soreness. Delicate areas of the body where the skin is naturally thinner such as the skin folds, face, and particularly the eyelids are most vulnerable to irritant reactions. Other sorts of cosmetics which can cause irritation include liquid foundation, mascaras, face masks, toners and anti-aging creams. Some people suffer from a particularly sensitive skin and experience itching, burning or stinging within minutes of using a product. This is usually a form of irritation rather than allergy and is commoner in people with skin complaints such as rosacea and dermatitis. It may help to use products that say they are for use on sensitive skin as the manufacturer will usually have undertaken further testing to reduce the risk of a reaction occurring. It may, however, be a matter of trial and error to find products that are tolerated.
Allergic reactions involve the body’s immune system which is meant to fight against infections, but occasionally get the wrong target – in this case an ingredient of the cosmetic. In order to develop an allergy, you have to be exposed to the allergen more than once, and usually repeatedly. This means that you can become allergic to something which you have been using for a long time without problem. What triggers the allergy process is unclear, but once developed, allergies like this are usually life-long. Allergic contact dermatitis/eczema appears as itchy, sore, red bumpy skin, which becomes flaky and dry. If you avoid further contact with the allergen, it should improve within a week or so. It is worst where the product has been applied to the skin but can sometimes spread to other parts of the body. Treatment with a topical steroid cream will help to clear the rash more quickly.
Allergic contact dermatitis is an example of a delayed-type allergy and the reaction may not appear until several hours or even days after using the product. This makes it difficult to work out what has caused the problem.
The most common ingredients in cosmetics which cause allergic reactions are fragrances and preservatives. There are many different types of fragrance ingredient but you can tell if a product has a fragrance added as it will include ‘perfume’ in the ingredient labeling.
If you are allergic to fragrance, you may also need to avoid fragranced plant extracts that may be labelled separately with the Latin name. Plant extracts which may cause allergic reactions include tea tree oil, citrus extracts, lavender etc.
Preservative chemicals are needed in most cosmetics and toiletries to stop them degrading and becoming contaminated by bacteria. They often have long names e.g. imidazolidinyl urea, quaternium 15, methylisothiazolinone etc.
Other things which occasionally cause allergic reactions include nail varnish resin (particularly acrylate nails) and sunscreens.
Do not be misled by the description of products as ‘hypoallergenic’ or ‘natural’, as these can contain a variety of common allergens.
Hair dye is another common cause of allergic contact dermatitis and this is almost always caused by phenylene diamine chemicals. Strong allergic reactions can develop causing a lot of swelling and redness of the ears, face and neck as well as the scalp. This sort of allergy often affects people who have colored their hair for years without any problem. As phenylene diamines are present in all permanent and semi-permanent hair dyes, it may prevent you coloring your hair again in the future. Natural substances such as pure henna and indigo are safe. BUT beware that black henna (used for temporary tattoos around the Mediterranean) contains phenylene diamine and frequently causes allergic reactions in children.
Is there a topical treatment to help a reaction to food allergies (presumably to help a person if they have an aesthetic reaction)
Topical steroids and emollients (moisturizers) are the most common topical treatments for eczema or contact dermatitis. Topical steroids reduce inflammation in the skin.
Is there a difference between summer asthma and fall asthma?
Asthma is a chronic inflammatory disease of the airways that carry air in and out of the lungs. Asthma causes the lining of the airways or branches of the lungs (bronchial tubes) to become inflamed and sensitive, which then causes the airways to narrow. These changes make breathing difficult and cause a feeling of not getting enough air into the lungs. Common symptoms include cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness and excess mucus production.
Asthma symptoms often vary over time, due to different environmental triggers such as mold or pollen. Just like the leaves on a tree change, these triggers can be different throughout the four seasons of the year.
Although most of us welcome summer, there are some occasional disadvantages, such as elevated humidity, high pollen counts and poor air quality.
When the weather heats up, outdoor triggers continue to change. Tree pollens diminish, grass pollens rise, and ragweed season is coming soon. Inhaled airborne allergens are everywhere, and when inhaled into your airways, they cause inflammatory reactions and asthma symptoms in susceptible individuals.
Smog can also trigger asthma symptoms, and it’s especially bad when combined with seasonal pollens. Weather plays a significant role in asthma symptoms as well. Thunderstorms bring barometric pressure changes, increased wind speed, rainfall and humidity, all of which can aggravate asthma symptoms.
Chlorinated swimming pools can also adversely affect people with asthma who are sensitive to the irritant chemicals. Outdoor pools are less likely to cause symptoms because there is better ventilation.
When summer starts to wind down, harvest time begins and autumn leaves begin to change color and fall to the ground, though, chances are that fall allergy and asthma challenges are about to begin. The most common early fall allergens are weed pollens, especially ragweed. Mold and its spores are another powerful allergen in people who have allergic asthma with a sensitivity to mold. Mold can grow both inside and out, so it can be an indoor asthma trigger, as well as an outdoor asthma trigger. It’s the outdoor type of mold, though, that causes the most allergy and asthma problems in the fall.
One additional note, as children start back to school they also tend to be exposed to more respiratory viruses and infections which also impact asthma significantly.