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Top Ten Contact Dermatitis Allergens

A new study conducted by the Mayo Clinic has revealed the most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis, a skin inflammation resulting in swollen, reddened and itchy skin due to direct contact with an allergen. Here are the allergens that were at the top of the list, according to a release by Mayo Clinic:

*Nickel (nickel sulfate hexahydrate) -- metal frequently encountered in jewelry and clasps or buttons on clothing

*Gold (gold sodium thiosulfate) -- precious metal often found in jewelry

*Balsam of Peru (myroxylon pereirae) -- a fragrance used in perfumes and skin lotions, derived from tree resin

*Thimerosal -- a mercury compound used in local antiseptics and in vaccines

*Neomycin sulfate -- a topical antibiotic common in first aid creams and ointments, also found occasionally in cosmetics, deodorant, soap and pet food

*Fragrance mix -- a group of the eight most common fragrance allergens found in foods, cosmetic products, insecticides, antiseptics, soaps, perfumes and dental products

*Formaldehyde -- a preservative with multiple uses, e.g., in paper products, paints, medications, household cleaners, cosmetic products and fabric finishes

*Cobalt chloride -- metal found in medical products; hair dye; antiperspirant; objects plated in metal such as snaps, buttons or tools; and in cobalt blue pigment

*Bacitracin -- a topical antibiotic

*Quaternium 15 -- preservative found in cosmetic products such as self-tanners, shampoo, nail polish and sunscreen or in industrial products such as polishes, paints and waxes

This study, presented Monday at the American Academy of Dermatology annual meeting in San Francisco, also confirmed that patch testing with a standard contact dermatitis series of substances is useful for identifying common contact allergens in specific patients. Patch testing is conducted by placing patches covered with possible allergens on a patients' backs for two days and then observing which substances cause skin inflammation. If a patient has an allergic reaction to specific patches, they have contact allergies to those specific substances. The study confirmed previous findings by the North American Contact Dermatitis Group about the benefit of patch testing.

The researchers examined contact dermatitis testing results from 3,854 patients over a five-year period between Jan. 1, 2001 and Dec. 31, 2005. The patients were tested with an average of 69 allergens. Of these patients, 2,663 (69 percent) had at least one positive reaction, and 1,933 (50 percent) had two or more positive reactions.

Contact dermatitis is common among all age groups and can cause a reaction that is anything from a minor annoyance to more severe handicaps, according to Mark Davis, M.D., Mayo Clinic dermatologist and lead study researcher. "Patients with contact dermatitis can get a very itchy rash from head to toe, or in a confined area," he says. "If it's on the hands and feet it can be disabling, and patients at times can't do their jobs."

The most affective way to treat contact dermatitis is by identifying the substances that trigger it and then avoiding the allergens. Dr. Davis also notes, however, that at times corticosteroid creams are used to treat rashes. But he also warns that 3 percent of patients with contact dermatitis are allergic to the topical steroids that would alleviate their symptoms. If you believe you may have an allergic skin reaction to one or more substances, consider talking to your doctor about identifying your allergen or allergens.

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