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What causes skin allergies and eczema?

Why do allergic reactions happen? And how do you treat them? A dermatologist has the answers.


By Dr Daniel Glass, Netdoctor

Skin conditions caused by allergies can not only be uncomfortable, but downright frustrating. How do you isolate what's causing you to react and what's the best way to treat your – now very sensitive – skin? And is there anything you can do to avoid becoming allergic in the first place?

Dermatologist Dr Daniel Glass from The Dermatology Clinic London offers his advice on how to recognise, treat and eliminate skin allergies without confusion or concern:

What is an allergy?

An 'allergy' is a reaction by the body's immune system to a substance, which for most people is harmless. Allergic reactions can cause symptoms such as a runny nose, itchy eyes and rashes; however in their most severe form they can be fatal.

The most common allergy is hay fever, which is an allergic reaction to pollen, while other possible allergens include foods, drugs, insects, dust, pets as well as chemicals that come into contact with the skin such as nickel or rubber.


Are allergies genetic?

Allergies may be genetic. Something called the filaggrin gene is involved in maintaining a healthy skin barrier. A mutation in the filaggrin gene has been found in about 10 per cent of the general population of the UK and is linked to development of eczema and allergies. If the skin barrier is not functioning properly, substances may be getting through that normally would not, ultimately causing these skin conditions.
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Are allergies formed in the womb?

Many expectant mothers wonder if there's anything they can do to reduce the possibility of their baby going on to develop allergies. There's no overwhelming evidence for specific things pregnant women should try but there have been a few insightful studies. For instance, higher maternal concentrations of nicotinamide (vitamin B3) are associated with a lower risk of a baby having eczema at age 12 months. And increased levels of certain fish oil-derived fatty acids in pregnancy are thought to decrease wheeze and asthma in kids.

With this in mind it is highly beneficial for expectant mothers to ensure they have a balanced diet, allowing adequate intake of essential vitamins and fatty acids.

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When should you see a specialist about allergies?

In general, allergy services globally appear not to have kept pace with increasing demand. If over the counter treatments don't seem to be doing the trick and you're still unsure of what may be causing your skin allergy, make an appointment with a dermatologist.

A dermatologist can try to determine the causes of these allergies by testing with either skin patch tests, prick tests or blood tests. They can also help optimise your skin care routine and to try to reduce flares of allergies such as eczema as well as decreasing the number of allergens getting through the skin.

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