Allergic Skin Disorders
Allergic skin disorders, or skin allergies, are a sometimes-serious and often uncomfortable type of allergic disorder. Like asthma and rhinitis, allergic skin disorders can be effectively treated to minimize discomfort and disturbance to daily activities. Skin problems are often caused by an immune system reaction, signifying an allergy. Allergic skin conditions can take several forms and are due to various causes. The most common allergic skin reactions and conditions are atopic dermatitis, urticaria and angioedema, and allergic contact dermatitis.
Atopic dermatitis, also called eczema, is an allergic skin disorder often affecting the face, elbows and knees. Itching is the hallmark symptom and can sometimes be very intense. With time, the lesions tend to scale and flake. Oozing will occur if a bacterial or viral infection is introduced by scratching.
Identifying the cause of the itch, when possible, is essential in relieving the dermatitis. Common triggers include allergens, overheating or sweating, emotional stress, eating certain foods and contact with irritants such as wool, pets, soaps or other agents.
Urticaria and Angioedema
Urticaria, also called hives, are red, very itchy, swollen areas of the skin that can range in size and appear anywhere on the body. Most common are acute cases of hives, where the cause is readily identifiable—often a viral infection, drug, food or latex. These hives usually go away spontaneously with or without medical intervention or removal of the trigger. Some people have chronic hives that occur almost daily for months to years. For these individuals, various circumstances or events such as scratching, pressure or “nerves” may aggravate hives. However, eliminating these triggers has little effect on the natural course of this bothersome condition.
Angioedema is a swelling of the deeper layers of the skin and sometimes occurs with hives. It is not red or itchy and most often occurs in soft tissue, such as the eyelids, mouth or genitals.
Allergic Contact Dermatitis
When the skin comes in contact with an allergic substance, allergic contact dermatitis may result. The reaction will usually start after one to three days. The skin becomes red, itchy and inflamed, and will frequently blister. Poison ivy is the most common cause, but other plants, metals, cosmetics and medications can also cause a reaction. Allergic contact dermatitis can be treated by scrubbing the skin with soap and water after exposure to the allergen and using prescribed antihistamine and cortisone medications, depending on its severity.
Allergic Skin Disorders Statistics
- Allergic dermatitis (itchy rash) is the most common skin condition in children younger than 11 years of age. The percentage of children diagnosed with it has increased from 3% in the 1960s to 10% in the 1990s. Horan, R.F., Schneider, L.C., Sheffer, A.L. “Allergic Disorders and Mastocytosis.” Journal of the American Medical Association. (1992) 268:2858-2868.
- Contact dermatitis and other eczema was diagnosed at over 7.1 million office visits to physicians and 430,000 hospital outpatient visits. United States. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics. Vital and Health Statistics Series. (1996) Vol. 13, No. 134.
- Urticaria (hives) and angioedema (swelling of the deeper layers of the skin) together affect approximately 15% of the U.S. population every year. Horan, R.F., Schneider, L.C., Sheffer, A.L. “Allergic Disorders and Mastocytosis.” Journal of the American Medical Association. (1992) 268:2858-2868.