31 Everyday Things You Didn’t Know You Could Be Allergic To
Everybody knows somebody with an allergy to pollen, dust, pet dander, or peanuts (maybe you even have one of these common ailments yourself). But you may be surprised about some of the lesser known materials, foods, or environments that an cause allergic reactions in certain people.
An allergic reaction occurs when the body misreads something that’s typically harmless as being dangerous, explains Kevin McGrath, MD, spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. “The immune system creates special white blood cells, called antibodies, to defend against this apparent threat similarly to how it would fight an infection or illness,” he says. (That’s where symptoms like swelling, itching, runny nose, and wheezing come in.)
People must be born with a genetic predisposition to allergies, but scientists don’t know exactly why or how they become allergic to specific things. And while many allergens are quite common, others are much rarer. Here are some of the more interesting cases allergists have seen in their practice, and what you can do if you’re affected.
Inexpensive silver-colored jewelry is often made with nickel—one of the most common causes of an itchy rash known as allergic dermatitis. About 17% of women and 3% of men have a nickel allergy, says Dr. McGrath; the gender difference is largely due to the fact that women have more exposure to nickel through jewelry (especially piercings), which raises their risk of becoming sensitized.
Switching to high-quality sterling silver or 14-karat gold jewelry usually solves this problem, says Dr. McGrath, although he has heard of very rare allergic reactions to gold, as well. “When people wear a lot of gold jewelry and a lot of makeup, the chemicals in the makeup can actually break down the gold and cause reactions with the skin.” For these people, he says, platinum is the best bet.
Cell phones and tablets
People with metal allergies may have trouble using cellular phones, PDAs, and tablet devices, (including iPhones and iPads), as these products often contain potential allergens nickel and cobalt. “People can get rashes on their face, ears, and hands, and irritation in the eyes if they touch their phone and then touch their eyes,” says Dr. McGrath.
Once you have a metal allergy, you're sensitive to it for life. But most people are able to safely use these devices as long as they’re covered with a protective case—as long as the case itself contains no metal, of course.
Nickel strikes again, this time on your clothing. “The button on the waist of jeans and other pants is usually nickel,” says Dr. McGrath. “For people who wear low-rise underwear, that metal can be exposed directly on the skin and cause a little circular red rash.”
Wearing a layer between your pants and your skin (like tucking in your shirt) can help, he says; so can painting over the back of the button with clear nail polish. If you do realize you’re sensitive to the nickel in your jeans, watch out for it in eyeglass frames, watches, coins, and zippers.
We know, wool is itchy. But some people who are sensitized to lanolin—a natural wax-like substance produced by sheep—can react even more strongly to apparel and blankets made with wool.
Lanolin is also used in some cosmetics, lip balms, shampoos, and ointments. People with a sensitivity to this ingredient should look for items that are labeled lanolin-free.