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Contact Allergy

What is Contact Allergy?
Contact allergy is an allergic skin reaction from contact with a substance that is usually harmless to others.

What are the common manifestations of contact allergy?
The commonest manifestation is an itchy rash that develops over a few days, after skin contact with a substance. The affected area first becomes itchy, then red and swollen with vesicles (water bubbles).

What are the common substances that can cause contact allergy ?
A substance that can cause contact allergy is called a contact allergen. Common contact allergens are:
• Metals e.g. nickel in watch straps, chrome in cement
• Skin care products e.g. fragrances, lanolin
• Medication e.g. flavine, neomycin.

Is it necessary to go through such a time consuming test ?
Very often it is. An example of the need for a patch test is when a skin rash has persisted for a long time. Many skin care products and medication would have been tried. It is necessary to identify the cause of contact allergy. A patch test will help to ascertain the cause. Another situation whereby a patch test is important is when a dermatitis is suspected to be due to work. There are many substances in the workplace that may cause contact allergy.

Is there a cure for contact allergy ?
In many cases, removing the cause i.e. the allergen from skin contact will result in a cure. Usually, once allergy to a substance has developed, it remains for life. That is to say, future contact with the substance will result in an allergic contact dermatitis again. This is exactly like a drug allergy. It is advisable for patients to carry a card to remind themselves and their doctors of their contact allergy.