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Mosquito bites, skin disorders, infections, autoimmune conditions, and systemic illnesses are some of the most prevalent causes of ‘pruritus’ or in simpler words, itchy skin.
However, you can also get itchy skin due to an allergic reaction. An allergy or allergic reaction is your body’s way of inciting an inflammatory response to a possible irritant or foreign substance. These irritants, also known as allergens, are unknown pathogens that your immune system perceives as a threat to your body.
Many common allergens include pollen and mold spores which can cause seasonal allergies. Other substances to cause an allergic reaction in the body include poison ivy, food (for instance, peanuts), external applications such as skincare products or cosmetics, and certain medications.
Many allergies can also become life-threatening and fatal if not treated in time. The body undergoes an ‘anaphylactic shock’ or a severe allergic reaction in response to an inciting pathogen, thus requiring immediate treatment.
What is Hay Fever, or Allergic Rhinitis?
Pollen, however, is one of the most common triggers to cause a seasonal allergy; otherwise known as allergic rhinitis or hay fever. Many people confuse hay fever with the common cold and flu, as the symptoms are quite similar.
As hay fever is an allergic reaction, it is not contagious or transmissible by a vector, such as an insect. But allergies usually have an inheritance pattern, and can be passed from generation to generation; so, if your father has a pollen allergy, there are chances that someone in your family such as you might experience it as well.
Cold, on the other hand, is a viral infection that is usually accompanied by a fever in addition to a runny nose, watery eyes, sore throat, and fatigue.
As you inhale the pollen, your immune system might recognize it as a threat and produce ‘histamine’ and ‘leukotrienes’ as part of an inflammatory response to the causative allergen.
These chemicals are responsible for causing rhinitis (runny nose) or nasal congestion, coughing, sneezing, and less commonly, a rash predisposing to itchy skin. As seasonal allergies are highly interconnected to asthma and eczema, they can often coexist as a triad known as ‘atopic diathesis’.
Atopic diathesis includes symptoms of asthma, allergic dermatitis (skin rash), bronchial inflammation, and runny nose altogether.
Why Is My Skin So Itchy?
As per Dr. Marie Hayag, renowned dermatologist and aesthetician; people with seasonal allergies are more prone to developing itchy skin reactions during the summers or spring. An allergic skin rash can be characterized as per its intensity and physical appearance into hives, scaly flakes, red patches, bumps, or eczema.
An itchy skin allergy rash typically presents as a red patch initially which ultimately erupts into wheals with carefully defined edges on the skin. The itch can be hard to relieve, leading you to scratch your skin aggressively.
Your skin can also get swollen due to inflammation or develop hives when severe. While a rash has defined edges, hives on the other hand, are more intense and blanch when pressure is exerted against the skin. It is important to note that hay fever or seasonal allergies can lead to an exacerbation of eczema.
Eczema usually occurs during early childhood, but can also occur during the course of life. As eczema mostly occurs on skin areas that rarely come in contact with inhaled allergens, hay fever cannot be held responsible for causing the chronic inflammatory condition independently.
Conquering Seasonal Allergies – Your Ultimate Solution to Preventing Itchy Skin
Itchy skin can leave you agitated, distressed, and up all night. An allergic skin rash can be managed with over-the-counter medications such as antihistamine agents as well as lifestyle changes which we have discussed below.
While it is better to have a primary care physician recommend you an antihistamine agent as per your symptoms, they are safe to use over-the-counter as well. Over-the-counter medications are easily available at your nearest drugstore or pharmacy.
Fexofenadine is a potent antihistamine that helps to block the release of histamine in your body, thus, shutting down any allergic reaction incited in response to a trigger. Diphenhydramine, another effective antihistamine agent, is also available over-the-counter and can help abate the symptoms of the common cold as well. Fexofenadine and diphenhydramine are ideal for managing allergic skin reactions that cause itchy skin rash or hives.
It is necessary to take the dosing as advised by your doctor, or as per the directions on the package. Other antihistamine agents such as Cetirizine, Loratadine, Clemastine, Chlorpheniramine, and Brompheniramine are also available over-the-counter easily.
Primary physicians might recommend you to use Fexofenadine HCL or Cetrizine at least once daily due to their non-sedating properties. For more flares, such as in the case of severe allergic rhinitis and itchy skin rashes, doctors usually prescribe fexofenadine twice a day for better results. Diphenhydramine, however, is a sedating antihistamine, which can prevent you from staying alert during the day.
It is also preferable to take antihistamine agents prophylactically, that is, before your seasonal allergies start acting up. In this way, you can curb your seasonal allergies from occurring or worsening in the presence of triggers.
Most dermatologists prescribe over-the-counter topical steroid creams, ointments, or lotions to people with severe seasonal allergies. Steroids such as hydrocortisone and betamethasone might be available over-the-counter, but caution is necessary when applying.
Your primary care physician can also prescribe a topical steroid such as clobetasol propionate or desonide for preventing skin rash caused by seasonal allergies and eczema flares. Most dermatologists advise the use of topical steroids for a limited time period such as for two weeks or so. But, with most prescription-medications, steroids can pose as irritants for the face, especially the eyes.
Get an Allergy Shot
In order to induce your body’s immunity against allergens, your primary care physician might advise you to get an allergy shot once every three to five years. Allergy shots are immunotherapeutic treatments that contain minute doses of specific allergens.
The allergy shots help to desensitize your body’s immunologic response to the causative allergen. Slowly and gradually, your body builds up significant immunity and tolerance against your allergens.
One of the benefits of getting an allergy shot is that you will no longer self-treat with topical steroid creams or antihistamine agents. Your seasonal allergies are kept at bay, and you would no longer have to suffer from vicious skin rashes and itching flares.
Moisturize Your Skin!
Try avoiding cosmetics or products that can worsen your skin rash. Remember, your rash can develop into eczema or contact dermatitis if your skin undergoes further irritation.
Try not to scratch your rash (no matter how hard) as it can cause your skin to itch more. Excessive exfoliation can rip off the oils from your already dehydrated and flaky skin, causing it to itch more.
Instead, use a hydrating lotion with dimethicones, squalane, petrolatum, paraffinum or mineral oil to protect your skin from flaring up. Such emollient agents create a protective barrier to keep the moisture in, thus preventing your skin from getting dry.
Precautionary Measures For Preventing Itchy Skin
Knowing your allergic triggers can help avert any hypersensitivity reaction caused by exposure. Pollen is the biggest culprit behind your seasonal allergies. Pollen is usually found outdoors and can incite a skin rash if you come in contact with it.
- If you go outdoors, consider wearing a facial mask to prevent yourself from inhaling the pollen.
- Try not to do your own yard work; hire a gardener to mow your lawn and take care of the plants.
- Change your clothes and shower when you come home. Also, try not to hang your clothing on a line to dry; instead, use a dryer. Pollen can land on your clothes, therefore, inciting an inflammatory reaction when you expose yourself to your allergy-prone clothing.
- Consider vacuuming your room if your seasonal allergies have a reputation of becoming worse. Dust the windows, vents, and all the nooks and corners of your house regularly.
- Close your room’s windows and doors, especially on windy days.
- Change your bedsheets and pillow-covers at least once weekly with hot water. If once a week is difficult due to your heavy schedule, you can go to the laundromat once a month and wash the load at once.
- Try to avoid high pollen counts, especially during the morning.
- Check the daily newspaper or the internet for daily pollen counts. Weather channels or meteorological reports usually report pollen counts on a 24-hour basis.
- Get a humidifier for your room so that you can add moisture to your surroundings and thereby, prevent your skin from getting itchier.
- You can also get an air purifier, such as a high-efficiency particulate air filter (HEPA) for your home. The air purifier can help remove any airborne particles – pollen, dust, and pet dander – which can trigger an immunological reaction.
- If you can afford, try to install an air-conditioner in your room and filter air regularly with a HEPA filter. Also use the air conditioner in your car while traveling in order to filter the toxic air regularly.
Managing seasonal allergies with over-the-counter medications can seem tedious at times, especially if you are prone to skin irritation and full-blown itching rashes. While antihistamine agents help to keep seasonal allergies at bay, there are times when your itchy skin becomes too bothersome to manage symptomatically.
Visit your nearest primary care physician or dermatologist to learn more about the management of your seasonal itchy skin flares. Consider getting an allergy shot once every three years for maximum prevention and an itch-free season!