Itchy skin is never a desirable condition. It affects all ages from infants to adults, regardless of color, race or creed; in other words “it is no respecter of persons”. It can be distressing, discouraging and problematic particularly for infants, toddlers and the elderly. Additionally, certain skin conditions such as eczema/dermatitis are notorious for encouraging this problem. Itchy skin can be as a result of internal and/or external factors. Internal factors are those that cause the body to elicit a type of hypersensitivity reaction (or a heightened cell or immune response to a familiar or unfamiliar substance) as a direct result of an allergen (for example dust or sea food) which causes what is known as an allergic contact dermatitis (ACD).
ACD can occur in varying severities depending on the degree of exposure. For instance, the first time you ate seafood you may have experienced mild to moderate itching followed by a few bumps and maybe some tingling to your mouth and throat. However, if not recognized as ACD, the next time you indulge in such a mouth watering delight you will find the reaction occurring faster than before and more severe, with not only itching and bumps, but blisters, skin redness that may seem to spread, your mouth may become swollen and your throat may feel as if it is closing. This occurs because your body’s cells or immune system sees the ingested substance as foreign and will not tolerate it, even though you may have been eating it for years. The same holds true for inhaled or applied substances. Substances ingested, inhaled or applied in smaller quantities will affect the body over a period of usages, whereas in larger quantities they can affect the body immediately.
“So, how is this problem prevented?” you may ask. Avoid the substance, food or fragrance that is causing the problem, no matter how delightful it may taste, smell or feel. If you are not sure of the culprit, my advice would be that you get allergy tested to become knowledgeable of what you can eat, apply or inhale on any given day without developing an allergic contact dermatitis.
External factors can cause a form of dermatitis known as irritant contact dermatitis (ICD). As its name suggests, when something comes into contact with your skin that it does not agree with, then ICD develops. This condition of the skin or mucous membranes (lining of the mouth or genital area) can present as itchy fine pimples, vesicles (water bumps), or blisters with the involved skin presenting red, inflamed, painful or sometimes tender or weepy areas. Unlike allergic contact dermatitis, that can initially begin in one localized area and then can gradually spread to neighboring areas, ICD is localized. Localized in the sense that it would only be found where the skin was in contact with the irritant, unless the same culprit was applied to multiple areas of the skin or rubbed all over the body.
Irritants can be in the form of aerosols, for instance perfumes and household sprays, in addition to different body and bath oils, lotions, creams, soaps and powders that are not normally used, as well as medications that are applied topically (on the skin). Once again, unlike allergic contact dermatitis which can take several hours or sometimes a few days to present an allergic rash, ICD can display an unwanted and unpleasant reaction immediately or within minutes of contact. In a lot of cases when the culprit is unknown or unclear the skin collaborates wonderfully with your intelligently designed immune system to provide a telltale sign of what the agent could have been. For example, we ladies love to adorn ourselves with earrings, necklaces, bracelets etc., real or fake, and in the event any of these lovely trinkets contain nickel, for instance, then usually the area in contact with the jewelry would begin to itch, have fine pimples and can become red, developing in the shape of the culprit that is causing this displeasure, so you will notice a rash outline almost in the shape of the trinket you had worn. Similarly for our male counterparts, they would notice a rash in the outline of the watch or bracelet that they had worn. Additionally, if one has a reaction to latex or rubber, then gloves or shoes or anything with these substances would cause an unpleasant rash to be found on the hands or feet.
So, you may ask, “What do I do about this to prevent any reoccurrence?” Simple, stop wearing, applying and spraying what is causing the problem and in most cases, provided that it is not severe, then the rash would spontaneously resolve. In the event that the reaction is moderate to severe, then a visit to the dermatologist is the best option, so that the correct prescribed medication can be given to quickly get rid of the reaction, in addition to patch testing your skin to determine other possible culprits that would cause your skin to break out into a reaction.
•Dr. Rokeisha Clare-Kleinbussink studied at Cosmetology Cosmetic Training for Dermal Filler in London, UK and attended the Academy of Beauty Training for Laser and Microdermabrasion in Nottinghamshire, UK. She also attended the University of the West Indies School of Medicine and Cardiff University School of Medicine. She has a private practice at Roseona House of General and Cosmetic Dermatology and can be reached at www.roseonahouse.com or 422-2022.