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October 4, 2010 at 12:00 PMComments: 2 Faves: 0

Living with Fabric Allergies

By Jeany Miller More Blogs by This Author

According to experts, approximately 50 million Americans, including millions of children, suffer from allergies. These account for major illnesses that rage throughout the entire year.

By definition, an allergy is the immune system's overreaction to a substance that is harmless to other people. That substance is called an allergen, and the body treats it as an invader. Symptoms range from watery eyes to wheezing to skin rashes thus ensue. Allergens cover a wide range of subjects. Dust is one of the most common, but people also suffer from allergies to pets, insects, and food items. Perhaps one of the most troubling allergies is that of fabric. This is a condition in which a person experiences allergic contact dermatitis as a result of his or her clothing, accessories or other garments that he or she has touched.

Understanding Allergic Dermatitis

According to government agencies, all fibers can cause irritant and allergic contact dermatitis. An example of this is found in such common fabrics as wool, where lesions may occur on the skin in a reaction to the material. Reactions are commonly found where the garments fit snugly and in areas where skin friction and perspiration are worse. In addition to the fabric itself, allergy sufferers may also have an adverse reaction to the actual ingredients used in the fabric. Some of these are as follows:

  • Rubber
  • Formaldehyde finishing resins that impart wrinkle resistance
  • Chemical additives
  • Dyes
  • Glues
  • Metallic fasteners
  • Elastic in brassieres and the waistband of pants or undergarments

Latex is another material that commonly causes dermatitis on the hands. According to health professionals, allergic reactions can occur due to the chemicals used in processing latex. These include preservatives, anti-oxidants, and rubber additives. Persons with eczema or similar skin conditions are also more likely to develop skin irritation to specific fabrics. While this is different from an actual allergic reaction, the outbreak of a skin rash or hives is still likely to occur.

Exposure to textile formaldehyde resins may cause burning sensations in the eyes, nose, and throat; tightness of the chest or wheezing, fatigue, and headaches. These are in addition to the tell-tale red rash that appears in either localized areas or multiple different spots on the skin.

Managing Fabric Allergies

One of the foremost ways that persons with fabric allergies can manage is by being a selective shopper. This means knowing which clothes and bedding are least likely to trigger a skin outbreak. According to physicians, cotton and silk fabrics are the best options, while synthetic and artificial materials like rayon, acetate, nylon and polyester should be avoided.

People with skin allergies would also do well to shy away from clothing that is labeled as crease-free, non-iron, wrinkle-resistant, or flame-resistant. The chemical ingredients they contain can trigger allergic reactions. If they are purchased, those clothes should be washed well before wearing. Follow these guidelines in order to manage fabric allergies:

  • Buy garments that fit properly and are neither too loose nor too tight.
  • Look for allergy-free clothing and bedding, which are specifically designed for persons with fabric allergies.
  • Use laundry detergents and fabric softeners that are free of dyes and perfumes, which may linger in fabrics and stimulate later allergic reactions.
  • Layer clothing appropriately throughout the year, as heat and humidity can further aggravate fabric allergies.
  • Avoid exposure to harsh soaps, new skin products, or creams, all of which can irritate sensitive skin and promote allergic breakouts.
  • Keep skin healthy and moisturized with a well-balanced diet, nutritional supplements, and plenty of water.
  • Stick to a basic skin care regimen that includes natural soap and moisturizer. Once this routine has been established, don't alter it in order to avoid new and potentially damaging products to the skin.

During allergic reactions, certain steps can minimize the outbreak. Physicians recommend lubricating skin frequently and avoiding scratching or rubbing whenever possible. Protect skin from external stimulants, including sun and heat. Finally, people should recognize and limit emotional stress, which can impair the body's ability to naturally restore health to the skin.


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  • more about allergies + fabric + dye

  • I have just returned from an 18-day cruise from Australia to Asia. This was my 18th cruise in 20 years. My problem was insomnia every second night. In the past I have asked for a sheet and a blanket as I find the doonars too hot. This time I was given a synthetic sheet and blanket so I was trying to sleep in a totally synthetic coocoon, and I would be wide awake one night and worn out and sleep the next night. I could not stay awake during the wonderful talks during the day as I was so sleep-deprived. I had one cupuccino and two cups of tea and four glasses of wine in total. I am a thin person and did a good amount of walking. Anyone else who has had this experience?

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