Warmer days and brilliant bouquets are around the corner. But for allergy sufferers, springtime is no picnic. Those joyful transitions can also translate into an annual ritual of sneezing, sniffling and itchy skin. The first step toward relief is to identify your position on the rash spectrum and to remember that pollen in the air is only one factor in the skin irritation equation.
About 8% of adult Americans get hay fever, but skin rashes that may be related to it often go unnoticed during spates of sneezing, tearing and other annoying symptoms. Hives can result from hay fever—the first symptoms will be itchiness and red patches, or eruptions that look more like welts than bumps, with clearly defined edges. The surface of the skin will appear swollen. Along with a rash you may also experience undereye puffiness and dark circles, known as allergic shiners.
While the cause of atopic dermatitis (AD), or eczema, is not clear, it can grow worse from hay fever. More common in infants and young children, AD appears as patches of dry, bumpy skin, especially on the face, scalp, hands and feet, and presents other symptoms, as well, including oozy blisters, ear discharge or cracking, and lizard-like skin changes that appear as a result of constant scratching.
Besides hay fever, several other factors can make your skin itch. During summer months, watch for heat rashes and exposure to poisonous plants. And don't forget seasonless allergies to body products, cosmetics and/or laundry detergents. In fact, the leading cause of allergic dermatitis is fragrance, which includes plant extracts and essential oils as they can also cause potential problems for fragrance-sensitive people.
Unfortunately, these rashes can be exacerbated by hay fever, with the primary symptom being generalized itchiness. Add scratching and you can end up with a full-blown rash.
Common advice points to antihistamines or even steroids for relief, but new research indicates that the important role microbiota plays in keeping skin healthy may eventually offer other solutions. A study comparing normal skin with diseased skin (as in atopic dermatitis and psoriasis) shows distinct differences in their microbial diversity. Normal skin not only has high microbial diversity, but also displays a great deal of variation from person to person.
Dr. Martin Blaser, a leader in the field of microbiome research, identified certain bacterial patterns that seem to be associated with psoriasis. These patterns signal an imbalance in patients' microbial communities—what scientists call dysbiosis.
While scientists struggle to help us find ways to restore host-microbiota homeostasis, there are simple lifestyle changes you can make now to help.
Season change is unavoidable, but it’s possible to calm irritated skin. Heed these tips to help control the discomfort of spring allergies. And, if at all possible, do not stop and smell the flowers.