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ALLERGIES

Allergies and your atopic dermatitis

Allergies can play a part in AD and can be a common trigger for many people.1,2 The sorts of things you may be allergic to can vary widely, but generally, people with AD are more likely to have allergies to things like food and pollen.2

So, identifying any allergens that trigger your AD may make some flare-ups a bit easier to avoid.2

What is an allergy?

An allergy is a chronic condition caused by an abnormal reaction to a substance called an allergen.3

If you have an allergy, your immune system views this substance as an invader and thinks it’s protecting your body by fighting back against the allergen.3 But, this actually kickstarts a chain reaction that, instead of protecting you, does the opposite.3

Allergens can include certain foods, as well as airborne substances like pollen, dust mites or pet dander.2,3 These allergens can trigger an allergic reaction for some people with AD, which in turn can cause a flare-up.2

Pet dander?

Pet dander is actually a combination of skin, fur and saliva that can linger in the air for hours and attach itself to furniture, carpets, and your clothes.4 Coming into contact with pet dander can result in an allergic reaction if your body recognises it as an invader.4

Man with eczema sat in a yellow chair looking visibly confused thinking about the allergies that could lead to flare ups
Woman with eczema holding her orange-furred cat, looking slightly alarmed at the thought of an allergic reaction

And what’s the link with atopic dermatitis and eczema?

Let’s break down what AD actually means. ‘Dermatitis’, as you may know, means inflammation of the skin. But it’s the term ‘atopic’ that provides the key to what causes it: atopy is the genetic tendency to develop allergic conditions, typically along with increased reactions to allergens.5

This tendency is, in part, due to having an immune system that’s overactive.6

In fact, in this scenario, the immune system is, kind of, doing its job too well. Instead of being laid back about the allergens, it reads them as a threat and overreacts.3 So, when a substance like pet dander is absorbed, the immune system may overreact – which can then contribute to a flare-up.4,6

For some people, AD is associated with a damaged skin barrier.2 This damage allows more allergens to enter the skin and may lead to other allergies developing too.2

What can you be allergic to?

Unfortunately, there are plenty of things out there we can potentially be allergic to. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Happy woman with eczema holding up spaghetti and meatballs wrapped around a fork

Food

Some common food allergies are associated with worsening AD symptoms, including:7

  • Milk
  • Peanuts
  • Eggs
  • Soy
  • Wheat
  • Seafood
  • Shellfish

If you think you might be allergic to any kind of food, have a word with your doctor to evaluate potential allergies and discuss appropriate treatment or testing options. And, in the meantime, it’s probably best to avoid the foods you know can act as triggers.

Airborne allergies

There are four common types of airborne allergens that we’ll talk about: pet dander, dust mites, mould and pollen.8 Because they’re all around us in the air that we breathe, airborne allergens might seem a bit harder to avoid, but there are still some things that you can try that may help.3

Cat

Pet dander2

  • Minimising your exposure to pet dander by only allowing your pet into certain parts of the house and ideally keep them out of your bedroom
  • Keeping your room clean to reduce the amount of dander building up
  • If you do have severe allergic reactions to animals, it may be best for your AD to avoid having a pet
Bug

Dust mites2

  • Choosing a breathable fabric, like cotton, for your bedding and anti-allergy pillows and mattresses
  • Washing sheets every week in hot water, helping to kill any bacteria
  • Reducing the amount of carpet or upholstery in the house
  • Keeping humidity low indoors
Mould

Mould2

  • Reducing exposure to mould, as it has been identified as a possible trigger for some people with AD
  • Cleaning areas that are susceptible to mould regularly using dilute white vinegar or diluted bleach may help to prevent its growth
Pollen

Pollen2

  • Showering and washing your hair regularly to remove any pollen that may have been caught in it
  • Trying not to bring any clothes or equipment you take outside into your bedroom to help prevent pollen from entering the room

Testing for allergies

Food allergy testing

If you’re concerned that you might be allergic to a particular food, ask your doctor about taking a food allergy test. The test usually involves slowly eating food and gradually increasing the amount. This will always be performed under medical supervision.

General allergy testing

If you think your AD is affected by allergies, but you’re not sure what it could be, ask your doctor about general allergy testing.

These tests can either be skin or blood tests, which help to identify any potential allergens that may be contributing to your flares.2,9

Asthma and allergic rhinitis

As if having AD wasn’t enough, it also can be the first step for some people in developing conditions such as asthma and hay fever (technically called ‘allergic rhinitis’).10

It might seem like a strange link. AD is a condition that appears in the skin, whereas asthma is associated with your airways, and hay fever, with your nose.1,11

But despite their differences, they are all ‘atopic’ conditions – in other words, related to allergic reactions – and can occur because of an imbalance in the immune system.10

Conversation

And, as ever, if you have any questions or concerns about allergies, it’s best to speak to your doctor or dermatologist who can help you achieve long-term control.

Environment

Environmental triggers

Ever noticed that dust or humidity can make your symptoms worse? That's because the world around you can impact your AD.

Find out more
Seasons

Seasons

Your AD can change with the seasons. So come rain or shine, it's good to understand the impact the seasons have.

Find out more
Diet

Diet

Some of the foods you eat may impact AD, so it might be time to start checking your shopping list.

Discover more

References

  1. Bieber T. Ann Dermatol 2010;22:125–137.

  2. National Eczema Association. Eczema, Atopic Dermatitis and Allergies:What Is The Connection? https://nationaleczema.org/atopic-dermatitis-and-allergies-connection/. Accessed August 2021.

  3. AAAAI. Allergy Defined. Available at: https://www.aaaai.org/tools-for-the-public/allergy,-asthma-immunology-glossary/allergy-defined/. Accessed August 2021.

  4. Mayo Clinic. Pet allergy. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pet-allergy/symptoms-causes/syc-20352192/. Accessed August 2021.

  5. AAAAI. Atopy Defined. Available at: https://www.aaaai.org/tools-for-the-public/allergy,-asthma-immunology-glossary/atopy-defined/. Accessed August 2021.

  6. National Eczema Association. Beyond the eczema rash. Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/beyond-the-eczema-rash/. Accessed August 2021.

  7. Dhar S et al. Indian J Dermatol 2016;61(6):645–648Z.

  8. Hostetler SG et al. J Clin Aesthet Dermatol 2010;3(1):22–31Z.

  9. Mayo Clinic. Allergy skin tests. Available at: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/allergy-tests/about/pac-20392895/. Accessed August 2021.

  10. Zheng T et al. Allergy Asthma Immunol Res 2011;3(2):67–73.

  11. National Eczema Association. Conditions Related to Eczema. Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/related-conditions/. Accessed August 2021.