If you’ve ever experienced itching, swelling, redness, bumps or blisters developing on your skin after accidentally rubbing against a plant or fence or after wearing a necklace then you are no stranger to contact dermatitis. According to the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI), this skin condition is a type of eczema that is caused by exposure to any substance that you are sensitive or allergic to.
Once your skin is exposed to an allergen, you can get symptoms ranging from mild to severe, which can show up within minutes or hours – and in some cases even after days. Rubber, bleach, hand sanitizers, fragrant soaps and certain deodorants are common allergens that can cause contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis is a very common health issue that can cause a lot of distress.
Usually, avoiding known allergens can help people prone to contact dermatitis prevent outbreaks. However, there can still be times when you may encounter new allergens and suffer a reaction. Such a case was reported recently at the ACAAI’s Annual Scientific Meeting by a team of allergists and immunologists based at the University of Cincinnati, USA. Their findings were also recently published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology.
A case of contact dermatitis during COVID-19
Wearing masks is an effective preventive measure during the COVID-19 pandemic and a practice endorsed by medical practitioners and governments across the world. The study mentioned above, however, notes the possibility of getting severe contact dermatitis reactions from certain allergens present in masks currently being used across the world.
This conclusion was reached after the researchers came across and treated a 60-year-old African-American man who presented with complaints of a facial rash. In April 2020, this man visited the hospital emergency room three times with a facial rash as the presenting symptom. His medical history revealed that he had adult-onset atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis and chronic allergic rhinitis. All he needed to treat his skin allergies was a daily topical emollient until April 2020, when this recurrent rash started showing up.
After thorough follow-ups and investigations, it was revealed that the patient had been experiencing rashes in the infraorbital skin (around and between the eyes) and the back of his neck for two weeks even though he had been avoiding known allergens. Further investigations showed that the rashes started appearing shortly after he started wearing a mask for COVID-19 precautions. The researchers then discovered that the rash distribution area on the patient correlated with the elastic-containing parts of a non-surgical mask.
Allergenic components of a face mask
After discovering this link between mask-wearing and the case of contact dermatitis, the researchers prescribed topical steroid creams and topical tacrolimus gels to the patient until his rash resolved. He was also instructed to use cotton-based, dye-free masks without an elastic as a precaution against both COVID-19 and his contact dermatitis. When the patient reported a week later, his symptoms were continuing to improve, showing that this line of treatment had been effective.
The researchers thus concluded that people with contact dermatitis or other skin allergies should also avoid face masks with dye or elastic in them. They revealed that some allergens implicated in contact dermatitis, like carbamates and thiurams, are found in masks, elastic bands and other components of face coverings which are popularly being used across the world. Those with sensitive skin or underlying skin conditions like dermatitis should therefore use cotton-based face masks without these allergens.
For more information, read our article on Contact dermatitis.
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