Spring is finally here, bringing with it plenty of showers, sunshine…and the usual seasonal skin allergies.
While adults of all ages can suffer from these skin allergies, normal age-related changes can make older adults more susceptible to dry skin, and therefore more vulnerable to skin allergies.
Dermatologist Dr. Cameron Harrison explained how our skin changes as we grow older:
“As we age, our skin loses our natural moisturizers that protect it from drying out,” he said. “As a result, we lose that natural barrier between us and the elements.”
This reduction in our natural protective barrier means it’s easier for allergens to do what they do best: cause itchy red rashes.
Here are four common types of skin rashes to prepare for during the warmer months to come:
“Prickly heat” or heat rash
This irritating condition looks like a sunburn but can occur without any sun exposure whatsoever. A heat rash – also known as “prickly heat” or miliaria – is a red rash on the skin that can be differentiated from other rashes by its small itchy, fluid-filled bumps. These bumps are caused by blocked sweat glands, and the prickly sensation occurs when these bumps burst and release their sweat.
Because the rash is a reaction to heat, it tends to present in areas of friction (increased heat). So, you’ll find it in skin folds, like underarms and groins, or places where clothing causes friction, such as the back or tops of the thighs.
It’s also often found in hospital patients who lie on their back for extended periods of time.
Some people are allergic (or may develop an allergic reaction over time) to some of the common ingredients in most sunscreens, such as fragrances and oxybenzone. This allergy can cause a rash, among other symptoms.
“Sunscreen allergies to chemical-based sunscreens are common,” Harrison explained. He recommends zinc-based sunscreens, which don’t have ingredients like vitamin A or oxybenzone, which have been associated with irritation and allergic reactions.
Rather than forego sunscreen altogether, try one of these dermatologist-recommended, allergy-free, zinc-based sunscreens.
Erythema migrans (cercarial dermatitis)
Picnic season is upon us, but don’t let ticks spoil your day. Be watchful for erythema migrans (cercarial dermatitis), the classic bullseye rash. Although not common, this rash is serious. Call your doctor right away (even if the rash is not at the site of the bite); its presence means your loved one (or you, if you see it on yourself) is in the early stages of Lyme disease. NOTE: This rash is usually not itchy. It looks “beefy” and shaped like a tiny red ring in the early stages. Seek proper medical intervention as soon as you can.
Summertime plants: Poison oak, sumac or ivy
Just because your loved one isn’t out hiking in the woods doesn’t mean they aren’t susceptible to the allergic reaction to urushiol, the oil common to poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac. This oil can easily be transferred from pet fur and grandkids’ sports gear to your loved one’s skin without direct exposure to the plant itself.
Although it can be miserable, this rash can usually resolve on its own in a few weeks. However, experts recommend a visit to the doctor if there’s any pain or swelling of the eyelid or evidence of infection. Always use your best judgment when it comes to your loved one’s health care.
Prevention of spring and summer skin allergies
As always, prevention is the best medicine. Try these preventive measures this season to keep you and your loved one comfortable and rash-free:
- Stay around air conditioning if possible, or spend time in well-ventilated areas (or use a fan if necessary).
- Frequent cool baths and showers are a wonderful way to cool the skin, but be sure to dry the skin and moisturize it properly.
- Change out of sweaty clothes frequently.
- Wear loose-fitting clothing that doesn’t trap heat and moisture. Choose natural fabrics, such as cotton.
- Use an antiperspirant deodorant in areas other than just the underarms, such as other skin folds (groin folds, thighs, under breasts, etc.) to decrease sweating. (Rashes like warm, moist places.)
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist for suggestions on OTC creams or tablets that may relieve discomfort.
- Drink plenty of water in hot weather.
- Reduce sun exposure to your skin.
- Wear allergen-free sunscreen.
- Stay well-hydrated.
Remember, moisturized skin is healthy, happy skin, and less likely to become irritated and reactive to allergens.
Harrison recommends two primary ways to stay moisturized over the next few months:
“First, don’t scrub your skin with soap in areas other than where the skin folds over (underarms and groin area), as this will unduly dry out your skin. Second, use a thick ‘cream’ that comes in a tub, as opposed to a ‘lotion.’”
Lotions contain alcohol as the main ingredient, he said, and are diluted with water, thus drying to the skin. Many dermatologists recommend creams like Cetaphil.
When to seek help
Use your best judgment. Call your doctor with any concerns, especially if you see signs of infection, which include:
- Pain, swelling, redness or warmth around the affected area
- Pus draining from the lesions
- Swollen lymph nodes in the armpit, neck or groin
- Fever or chills
There are some rare illnesses that affect the whole body that initially present with a rash. Call your doctor or 911 immediately if the rash is associated with:
- Severe headache, neck stiffness and fever
- Vomiting and nausea