Everyone knows that springtime sniffles are often due to pollen allergies, and fall brings misery to those who are allergic to ragweed. But did you know that many lesser-known allergies may be making your life miserable? Even the shoes on your feet and the clothes on your back are potential trouble-makers. Check out these odd causes of allergies:
Shoe leather. A rash similar to poison ivy on your feet could be an allergy not to the leather itself, but to the chemicals, such as potassium dichromate, used in tanning. Sachets made with dimethyl fumarate (DMF) are often put in shoe boxes to prevent the growth of mold, but it also seeps into the leather and can cause allergies. Dyes, such as paraphenylenediamine (PPD), can also cause problems in sensitive people. Even the glues used in manufacturing shoes or added decorations can be the source of allergies.
Symptoms run the gamut from redness, blisters, and itchiness to swelling.
Cell phones. Many cell phones contain nickel or cobalt, two metals than can cause allergies when the metal touches skin. Symptoms are dry itchy patches of skin on cheeks, jaw lines, ears, and hands. While coins can also contain nickel, contact is usually brief, but many people chat on cell phones for several hours during the week.
Children may be especially vulnerable. A study by California’s Loma Linda University School of Medicine found that 41 percent of those who sought medical attention were under the age of 18.
Avoid direct skin contact by using a plastic film cover on the phone or a wireless ear piece. When considering a new cell phone, choose one that doesn’t have metal on surfaces that touch your skin.
Body piercings and tattoos. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (ACAAI), 24 percent of people 18 to 50 years of age have tattoos and 14 percent have at least one body piercing. A Pew Research poll found that almost 4 in 10 people born after 1980 have at least one tattoo. The pigments used in tattoos, especially red, green, yellow, and blue dyes, can cause allergic reactions, which may develop years later. Piercings that contain nickel can cause problems.
The henna used in temporary tattoos can also cause allergic reactions. Normally, henna rarely causes problems, but some darker hues contain a chemical in henna hair dye called p-phenylenediamine, or PPD, which can cause allergic reactions.
Cosmetics. Common cosmetics you use every day may contain chemicals that cause allergies, says the ACAAI, which states that the average person uses 12 personal products a day that may contain up to 168 chemicals. One study found that more than a third of people tested had at least one reaction to chemicals in cosmetics.
The most common allergies to cosmetics are to the preservatives they contain, and preservatives are used in almost any product that contains water. Common additives, all of which have been tied to skin allergies, include parabens, imidazolidinyl urea, Quaternium-15, DMDM hydantoin, phenoxyethanol, methylchloroisothiazolinone, and formaldehyde.
Raw fruits and vegetables. If you have a problem with ragweed, grass pollen, or birch pollen, you may have an allergic reaction when you eat certain fruits and vegetables, or your existing allergies can become worse. Called a cross-reaction, it can cause “oral allergy syndrome” (OAS) or “pollen fruit syndrome” (PFS).
People with grass allergies may have allergic symptoms when they eat peaches, oranges, celery, melons, and tomatoes. If you have ragweed allergies, you may react to melons, bananas, zucchini, and cucumbers. Those with birch tree pollen may have allergies triggered by carrots or fruits with pits.
One way you can usually avoid reactions to fruits and vegetables is to eat them cooked, since cooking usually destroys the proteins that cause OAS.
Sun. If you break into hives after being in the sun, you may have an allergy called solar urticaria (SU). Although rare, it appears within 30 minutes of sun exposure, but its symptoms of stinging and itching usually disappear a few minutes after you get out of the sun. Researchers believe the trigger is ultraviolet or UV radiation. SU can also be triggered by exposure to artificial light if it emits UV rays.
Soil. You probably know to check for mold in your house if you have allergies to mold, especially in your bathroom and kitchen. But check out the soil in your houseplants — mold can sometimes be found in the dirt, and in addition to causing allergic reactions in people, the mold isn’t good for the plants either.
Experts advise repotting new plants using sterile soil and watering your plants only when dry. If you spot mold, it’s usually only in the top layer of soil, so scoop it off and replace with clean potting soil. Several natural products can keep mold from returning; sprinkle plant soil with apple cider vinegar, baking soda, or cinnamon.
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