Everybody knows somebody with an allergy to pollen, dust, pet dander, or peanuts (maybe you even have one of these common ailments yourself). But you may be surprised about some of the lesser known materials, foods, or environments that an cause allergic reactions in certain people. An allergic reaction occurs when the body misreads something that’s typically harmless as being dangerous, explains Kevin McGrath, MD, spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology.
Inexpensive silver-colored jewelry is often made with nickel—one of the most common causes of an itchy rash known as allergic contact dermatitis. About 17% of women and 3% of men have a nickel allergy, says Dr. McGrath; the gender difference is largely due to the fact that women have more exposure to nickel through jewelry (especially piercings), which raises their risk of becoming sensitized.
Cell phones and tablets
People with metal allergies may have trouble using cellular phones, PDAs, and tablet devices, as these products often contain potential allergens nickel and cobalt. “People can get rashes on their face, ears, and hands, and irritation in the eyes if they touch their phone and then touch their eyes,” says Dr. McGrath.
Nickel strikes again, this time on your clothing. “The button on the waist of jeans and other pants is usually nickel,” says Dr. McGrath. “For people who wear low-rise underwear, that metal can be exposed directly on the skin and cause a little circular red rash.”
We know, wool is itchy. But some people who are sensitized to lanolin—a natural wax-like substance produced by sheep—can react even more strongly to apparel and blankets made with wool.
Laundry detergent and dryer sheets
Some ingredients in laundry detergents and fabric softeners—especially dyes and scents—can cause people to break out with contact allergic reactions, says Dr. McGrath. And you don’t just have to get the liquid itself on your skin; it can be transferred into the clothes you wear, the towels you use, or the sheets you sleep on.
Used bookstores and libraries are known for their musty air and familiar smell—but people with dust allergies can have serious problems in spaces like these when thick layers of dust are stirred up. The same goes for attics, basements, storage rooms, and, yes, the bookshelves in your house.