Natural Health Care
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Allergic contact eczema
The cells of the immune system work in various ways in skin disease.
Two or three days these cells give rise to others that in turn switch on other defense mechanisms such as the release of chemicals that attract the scavenger cells of the immune system. Because of the lag between initial contact and subsequent reaction, this is called ‘delayed hypersensitivity’.
The skin reactions underlying allergic contact eczema are of this type.
It is not known why some substances are particularly prone to causing contact allergy, but common culprits are:
Nickel - A white metal often used in jewelry, belt buckles, jean studs, metal watch straps, bra fasteners. Many other metals can also cause reactions.
Perfumes - Balsam of Peru is a component of fragrances that can cause contact allergy.
Rubber and related chemicals - Shoes, Tyres and Clothing.
Potassium dichromate - Cement, Leather and Matches.
Hairdressing chemicals (paraphenylenediamine)
Medications - Lanolin, Neomycin (antibiotic), Fusidic acid (antibiotic), Steroid creams and ceteary alcohol (used in emollient creams).
Epoxy resins - In glues used in hobbies, Woodworking and Glass fiber construction.
Colophony - Resin from spruce trees, Used in sticking plaster adhesive.
Plants - Both by direct contact and by contact with airborne particles.
In the food industry a wide variety of foods are known to potentially cause skin reactions.
Actions of contact allergic eczema
Rashes first appear only at the site of skin contact with the allergen. Later it often spreads out and may involve skin well away from the contact site. This is because the immune cells become activated and migrate out through the bloodstream to other parts of the body.
When allergic contact eczema is suspected, it can therefore be important to remember where it first started when taking the medical history behind the development of a rash finding the cause.
Sometimes the cause and effect relationship is obvious, with a red scaly reaction around an earring or under a watchstrap. At other times, especially if a long time has passed since the initial exposure and sensitization, it can be impossible to identified contact allergic from other types of eczema.
It may also be difficulties distinguishing allergic contact eczema (which is an immune response) from irritant eczema (which is a direct skin reaction against an irritant substance). In practice, this difference is not so important because the same lines of treatment are required for both.
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