By Diane Mapes
Spring is here and with it the traditional sounds of allergy season: Sniffling, sneezing, wheezing and “honking.”
But while nearly 35 million Americans cope with everyday allergens like pollen, dust mites or pet dander, there are some itchy souls who suffer from more unusual triggers – nail polish, cockroaches and iPods, to name a few.
“Women will come in with redness on the lids of their eyes,” says Dr. Beth Corn, assistant professor of medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. That’s a telltale sign of nail polish allergy – triggered by a fairly common reaction to the ingredient toluene sulphonamide formaldehyde resin. “I’ll tell them they’re allergic to nail polish and they’ll be shocked. But fingers touch your face a lot, particularly your eyes.”
Another common allergy: cockroach. “It’s very common in New York City and probably the most common allergen in the asthmatic population in East Harlem,” Corn says.
Indeed, one study found 40 percent of children with asthma in New York City are allergic to cockroaches – or cockroach feces, body parts or secretions – which researchers believe is what’s responsible for the airborne allergens.
Less common – but not less serious – is a celery allergy, which is often found in people who are also allergic to mugwort pollen, onion and chive. “For a certain group of people, when they ingest celery and then exercise, they go into anaphylactic shock,” Corn warns.
Allergic reactions happen when the immune system misinterprets a harmless substance – like a cockroach or the Urban Decay nail polish called “Roach” – as an enemy and goes on the attack. And while it seems there’s an ever-growing list of allergens, Corn says we’re not becoming more sensitive, just more savvy.
“We’ve become more sophisticated with regard to understanding what allergies are,” she says. “Things that might have been confused with something else in the past are now realized to be allergies. And people are more attuned to understanding that when something repetitive happens, it might actually be a cause-and-effect type of deal.”
Just about everything under the sun can spark an allergic reaction. In fact, some people are actually allergic or sensitive to the sun and will break out in a red itchy rash, or worse, whenever their skin is exposed to sunlight. Others suffer from photoallergic eruption, triggered by the effect of sunlight on a chemical applied to their skin (such as fragrance, cosmetic or sunscreen) or ingested via a prescription (antibiotics, diuretics and certain birth control pills cause this reaction).
While allergies are often confused with the common cold, there are those who are actually allergic to the cold. Winter weather – or even cold food and drink – can cause their skin to get blotchy or break out in hives. Swimming in cold water can even bring on anaphylaxis, a severe, life-threatening allergic response that affects multiple organ systems of the body.
Nickel is another common allergen that Corn says affects many people, especially those who wear metal jewelry. But it’s not just rings or bracelets that can trigger this allergy. Some people have discovered they’re actually allergic to their jeans, thanks to buttons or rivets or studs containing nickel.
Others have found their beloved cell phones and iPods are making them sick. In October 2008, British dermatologists issued a warning about something they called “mobile phone dermatitis,” a rash traced to the nickel found in the casings of cell phones and iPods. Big talkers with nickel allergies are more prone to the rash, which usually appears on cheeks and ears. But diehard text messagers can also experience outbreaks on their fingertips from tapping the metal menu buttons.
The answer? Dump the studded jeans, spring for 24K gold jewelry and use a headset for your cell phone. Foregoing fancy metallic cell phone frames and decorative logos may also help since that’s where the nickel tends to be found.
The list of oddball allergens goes on: alcohol, marijuana, hot tubs, deodorant, feminine products, exercise and (tragically, for our expert Dr. Corn) corn.
And, yes, some people are even allergic to sex.
Semen allergies, otherwise known as human seminal plasma hypersensitivity, can result in redness, burning, swelling and even blisters wherever the semen has contacted the skin; in rare cases, having sex with someone to whom you’re allergic can even result in anaphylactic shock. Symptoms usually start within minutes after contact and can last from hours to days. Although men may be at risk, the allergy primarily affects women.
Treatment usually involves “desensitizing” the woman to her partner’s seminal fluid by injecting her with shots containing small doses of semen. Frequent sex is also recommended.
As are condoms – as long as neither partner has a latex allergy, that is.