Other Substances

Are You Allergic to These 10 Everyday Items?

Allison Tsai Aug 29th, 2012 (updated May 29th, 2015)
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Sometimes we can be allergic to things that seem to be "hidden" in household items, clothes and food. Be aware of what makes you react, and you may find an allergen where you least expect it.

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Cell phones
Cell phones

Nickel is a common cause of allergic contact dermatitis, and can be found in everything from your cellphone to jewelry to zippers. Reactions typically occur 24 to 48 hours after exposure as an itchy rash in the area exposed. The treatment for allergic contact dermatitis is to avoid exposure, soothing lotions (e.g. calamine), topical antihistamine creams, and in more severe reactions, corticosteroid creams. The rash can take two or more weeks to clear.

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Soaps and detergent
Soaps and detergent

Sometimes washing your clothes or hands brings unexpected irritation, which is called irritant contact dermatitis and can be caused by soaps, detergents, and cleaning products. The skin does not have an allergic reaction but rather is directly irritated, leading to loss of normal barrier skin function and painful rash. The treatment for irritant dermatitis is similar to allergic contact dermatitis.

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Soy products
Soy products

Soy is an excellent source of protein and is used in many prepared foods as a protein supplement or as a lower cost alternative to meat protein. Check the ingredients for ‘soy protein isolate’, ‘isolated soy protein’, ‘textured soy flour’, or other similar ingredients in frozen meat patties, some baked goods, soy milk, and canned soups and stews.

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Salad bars or ice cream parlors
Salad bars or ice cream parlors

There are situations where problem foods may not be hidden, but there is a risk of exposure. A good example is at the salad bar: even though the chick peas may not be near the croutons you like, we never know if someone has mixed up utensils or simply used the same for both. This can also happen at the ice cream parlor, where rinsing the scoop between customers may not be done properly and traces of an allergen can be mixed into another person’s serving.

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Flavorings in food
Flavorings in food

Certain tasty slowly simmered dishes may not be as safe as they seem. This can be particularly problematic with ethnic cuisine. For example, a ‘fish stew’ may have broth that is flavored with shellfish, which could be catastrophic to an individual with shrimp or crab allergy. It is always important to ask, ask, ask whether things you may be allergic to are used as flavorings. Same when you are a guest at friends’ or with family.

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Rubber gloves
Rubber gloves

Latex is a natural rubber from the rubber tree, and can be found in gloves, condoms, balloons, and rubber bands. Most latex reactions cause a contact dermatitis similar to nickel. What is less well known is that individuals with latex allergy can also be allergic to certain foods that are seen similarly by the body’s immune system, including avocados and kiwi fruit. Those with latex allergies should consult their doctor about this type of ‘cross-allergy’.

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Cockroaches and mice
Cockroaches and mice

Common cryptic causes of asthma and allergic rhinitis indoors are cockroaches and mice. There can be a significant problem in larger housing units, where children and families may be affected whether there is evidence of infestation or not, as they could be in the apartment next door.

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Certain antibiotics
Certain antibiotics

Allergy to sulfa-containing medications is very common; these are typically antibiotics. However, not all antibiotics are pills. Doctors will sometimes prescribe antibiotic eye drops or ointments for ‘pink eye’. Several eye drop preparations contain sulfa antibiotics, and it may not occur to the patient to answer that they have any drug allergies when they are getting an eye drop prescription.

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Antibiotic creams
Antibiotic creams

Cuts and scrapes are very common. Some antibiotic creams or ointments can cause an allergic contact dermatitis, such as Neosporin or Bacitracin. It is important to be aware of this, as allergic skin reaction can be confused for a cut that is getting infected!

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Poison ivy and mango fruit
Poison ivy and mango fruit

In susceptible individuals, poison ivy causes allergic contact dermatitis. Interestingly, the compound that causes the reaction, urushiol, is also found in poison oak and sumac. What few people know if that it is also in the skins of mango fruit!