When a foreign substance invades the body, the immune system activates, protecting us from things like toxins and bacteria. An allergic reaction is an overreaction to a harmless substance called an allergen. Almost anything can be an allergen to any of us, including food, medication, animal dander, plants, pollen, and dust. Reactions include difficulty breathing and skin allergies that may be localized or all over the body.

Allergies are extremely common, affecting 50 million people in the United States alone. An allergy is the fifth most common chronic disease in this country and seasonal allergies account for more than half of all healthcare visits. At least 30,000 visits to the emergency room each year are due to food allergies. Over 17 million people pay annual visits to a doctor for skin allergies.

The type of reaction depends on the response from the person's immune system but most reactions are minor. Skin allergies include rashes, blistering, swelling, redness, and itching or other irritation. Eruptions or hives are also common symptoms of skin allergies. These allergic reactions can often be treated using over the counter medication but the most severe cases may require a prescription. If hives are severe or a rash is widespread, medical treatment should be obtained immediately.

Over the counter medication includes oral antihistamines like Claritin and Allegra. Benadryl is another effective antihistamine but it can affect concentration and impair the ability to drive safely. Hydrocortisone and other anti-inflammatory steroid creams can be used on skin rashes. Individuals with existing sever allergies may need to use an Epi-Pen. Doctors may administrator other forms of epinephrine for the most severe cases.

One of the keys to limiting the chances of a skin allergy is to avoid its triggers. If these are not obvious, the individual will need to do some investigating. This often involves thinking of what the body was exposed to shortly before the skin allergy developed. Some people are allergic to things as common as certain ingredients in makeup or laundry detergent. Others can have such a severe response to fabric softener that their entire body is affected.

Once skin allergy triggers are identified, it will be easier to avoid future reactions. Accommodations such as purchasing products that are fragrance-free or hypoallergenic may need to be made. Organic products serve as solutions for some people. Individuals with known allergies should consult with a physician before using these because some natural ingredients can also serve as allergy triggers.