20 Bizarre Things You Didn’t Know You Could Be Allergic To
Millions of children and adults are diagnosed with hay fever and food allergies each year. But there are plenty of more surprising everyday things you can be allergic to.
Cats, dogs, and other furry pets are known to cause sneezing fits in those allergic to their dander, but reptiles can be allergy culprits, too. “Your immune system senses that all the little proteins in their skin are bad, so it goes after them and causes allergy symptoms,” says Richard Lavi, MD, of the Allergy Asthma & Sinus Relief Center in Twinsburg, Ohio. A university in Spain even published a case study about a 42-year-old woman who suffered allergy symptoms like itchy eyes, runny nose, and asthma caused by her pet iguana.
“It’s pretty unusual but people can be allergic to semen,” says Philip Halverson, MD, of Allergy & Asthma Specialists in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Symptoms are typically confined to the area of contact, so oral sex will cause irritation in the mouth or throat and women can develop vaginitis, inflammation of the vagina that causes unusual discharge, itching, or pain.
Here’s what allergists do to control their own allergies.
No, this isn’t a trick to get you to spend less time on your phone. Electronics that contain metals like nickel or cobalt can cause rashes at the point of contact, like your ear, hand, or cheek.
“Anything with four legs can cause a delayed food reaction that doesn’t happen right away like with typical food allergies,” says Dr. Lavi. “Most people say ‘Oh boy, I’m in Hell’ within a few minutes, but in this unusual case it takes between four and six hours for a horrible reaction to occur.” The truly weird part of this animal meat allergy, called alpha-gal allergy, is that it most commonly affects people who have been bitten by a Lone Star tick, prevalent in the southeast United States. Symptoms include rash, nausea, cramps, sneezing, headache, and stuffy nose.
Add this to your list of excuses to skip the gym: exercise-induced anaphylaxis. This rare allergy is actually triggered by food you eat before working out. Unlike regular food allergies, sufferers don’t have a reaction until after they start physically exerting themselves; once they do, skin and respiratory symptoms pop out of nowhere. “Exercise heats your body up and your immune system reacts to the proteins breaking down in your stomach,” says Dr. Lavi. Wheat, seafood, celery, and cheese are foods found to be a trigger in those with the condition.
Find out about these medical conditions that might be mistaken for allergies.
Don’t give up your Sunday morning pancakes just yet! Unless you’re allergic to one of the ingredients in the batter, pancakes themselves aren’t the cause of what allergists call “Pancake Syndrome;” dust mites are. “Pancake mixes and other powdery ingredients that sit in boxes in the pantry can get contaminated by dust mites. Then you essentially eat a whole meal of dust mites and breakfast in bed becomes breakfast in the ER,” says Dr. Lavi.
People who are allergic to latex will also be allergic to condoms made of it. Doctors became aware of latex allergies when latex gloves were prevalent in medical settings many years ago, says Dr. Halverson. Check the list of ingredients before slipping on a rubber.
If you break out in hives on a hot, humid day, you could have an allergic reaction to your own sweat. “It’s called cholinergic urticaria and pops up out of the blue. You get little bumps that itch like sin and when you cool down they go away real fast,” says Dr. Lavi.
Here’s how you can stop seasonal allergies in their tracks.
“Wool can be itchy just because of its hairy nature, but it also contains lanolin so people can be truly allergic to wool products if they’re allergic to that,” says Dr. Lavi. Lanolin is a wax secreted by wool-bearing animals, like sheep.
Cheap jewelry often contains nickel, one of the most common skin allergies. If you notice the skin around your ring or earrings turning a dark green, that’s a sign they contain nickel; but it’s not an allergic reaction, just a natural oxidizing reaction between the acid in your skin and the metal, says Dr. Lavi. A true allergic reaction produces a red itchy rash and will happen every time you wear the offending piece.
Unless your child is a budding entomologist who collects insects from the backyard, you’ll probably never have to worry about monitoring their exposure to grasshoppers; unless they have a pet that feasts on them, that is. Lizards and bearded dragons often eat grasshoppers as their main food source and are becoming a popular pet choice. The University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna found that an eight-year-old boy’s nightly asthma attacks were actually an allergic reaction to his brand new bearded dragon’s grasshopper dinners. Researchers suggest keeping reptile food outside, just in case.
“Some people jump in a lake, pool, or shower and suddenly break out in hives,” says Dr. Halverson. The reason: they’re allergic to water. Aquagenic urticaria is a rare condition that causes the skin to break out in hives (that may or may not itch) as soon as it comes in contact with water. Scientists still aren’t sure exactly what causes the reaction but they think a substance dissolved in the water triggers an immune response in the body.
If your lips and mouth itch whenever you bite into an apple, your pollen allergy could be to blame instead of the fruit itself. People with allergies to tree pollen often will have similar reactions to fruits that grow on them. “That particular food allergy tends to be confined to the mouth, throat, and an itchy tongue without more serious symptoms. It’s a mild food allergy,” says Dr. Halverson.
Learn more about other things that can trigger your spring allergies.
Breastfeeding mothers often use creams to soothe the skin around their nipples and prevent soreness. But many of these balms contain lanolin and can do more harm than good if you’re allergic to this substance, produced by wool-bearing animals. If you notice a rash or swelling that seems too severe to be from ordinary breastfeeding, look for a lanolin-free product and see if symptoms clear up.
Topical treatments used to treat lice outbreaks may contain pyrethrins, a substance derived from chrysanthemum flowers that kills live lice and can trigger an allergic reaction in people with a chrysanthemum or ragweed allergy.
“You can technically be allergic to just about anything and that includes the cold, it’s a real deal thing,” says Dr. Lavi. Cold urticaria causes sufferers to break out in itchy hives when they spend time in the cold or cold water. Antihistamines may help.
These are the things allergists really want you to know.
Trees that secrete sap can trigger an allergic reaction similar to poison ivy symptoms thanks to an oily allergen called urushiol that the two share. “It’s usually a contact allergy, so you have to touch it to be affected, but it could be airborne if you burned a lot of pine needles, though that’s unusual,” says Dr. Lavi.
Though extremely rare, some people can be allergic to the sun and break out in hives, blisters, or a rash that may be painful or itchy.
Cosmetics with a fragrance sometimes contain components of Balsam of Peru, a Central American tree that can be an allergen. “Balsam is extracted to use in some cosmetics and people can get rashes due to their makeup,” says Dr. Levi.
Next, be sure to check out the 30 worst pieces of allergy advice doctors have heard.