Some people are so sensitive that a normal household item like laundry detergent can elicit an allergic reaction. Your body’s immune system tends to overreact in the presence of any specific irritating substance contained in the laundry detergent. This irritant substance can be a chemical added to the laundry detergent to fragrance it-to give it that fresh, breezy smell. It could also be a host of other substances to preserve, give color to the detergent.
Symptoms of Laundry Detergent Allergy
Certain chemicals in laundry detergent, such as sodium lauryl suphate (SLS), fragrances, dyes and ammonia, may cause typical allergy symptoms that can erupt hours or even days after exposure. These symptoms usually show up in areas that have direct contact with clothes that have been washed in the laundry detergent. The symptoms include:
- Red, inflamed and sensitive skin
- Swelling of the affected areas
- Itching and scaling of the skin
- Cracked, leathery skin
- Itchy eyes, sneezing, and increased nasal discharge
When to See a Doctor
Sometimes the allergic reaction is more severe than the occasional rash and itching. See your doctor when:
- You develop other symptoms like a blocked airway, vomiting and diarrhea, or swollen eyelids or lips.
- Your skin is oozing with pus or you have a fever.
- The rash doesn't improve or even spreads though you have avoided the allergen.
- The rash appears on your face or genitalia.
How to Deal with Laundry Detergent Allergy
You may first try the following tips to avoid the contact with laundry detergent:
- Using products that are free of fragrances and dyes. There are many products available that are hypoallergenic. Check the labels carefully before you buy new laundry detergent.
- Rinse all washed clothes twice to remove any detergent residue and thus minimize exposure of the skin to the allergen. Rinse clothes with vinegar or baking soda to further remove laundry detergent residue from your clothes.
- Try to find a detergent that creates no allergy and stick to it. Frequently changing your laundry detergent brand will make it difficult to recognize which one is causing the problem.
- Wash new clothing first before you wear them. All excess chemicals from the clothing manufacture process must be minimized.
- Use gloves if you have to handle any product that contains an allergen to avoid direct contact with your skin.
- Keep skin well hydrated with creams and lotions. Use petroleum jelly on your skin if you’re exposed to moisture excessively, e.g. jobs like gardeners, cleaners, chefs, and scuba divers.
Once you have identified the offending laundry detergent and avoided it, the laundry detergent allergy should subside and disappear within 2-3 weeks. If you still experience a mild rash after you have avoided the allergen, you may:
- Oatmeal on the skin is thought to improve the dryness and itchiness of skin allergy. You can mix 1 cup of oatmeal in water and apply to the affected areas.
- Cold compresses may give you some relief from the irritation.
- Use over-the-counter low dose antihistamine creams or gels to control the occasional outbreak. It will also reduce the itchiness of the rash. However, long-term use is not recommended. Calamine lotion can also reduce itchiness.
- Use topical steroidal anti-inflammatory products that are available without a doctor’s prescription. These contain very low doses of steroid. Care should be taken, however, because long-term use will cause the skin layer to become thinner and more prone to damage. Long-term use may also affect you internally as the steroid is absorbed through the skin into the blood stream.
If you require medical attention, your doctor will most probably try to identify the allergen by doing blood tests and a skin patch test. In the skin patch test, small samples of possible allergen chemicals are placed on your skin, usually on your back, to see if they elicit an allergic reaction. These chemicals are kept in place on your skin for about 48 hours. The doctor will examine the skin at intervals to gauge your body’s reaction to these chemicals. Depending upon the results and the severity of the allergy, you will be prescribed medications.
Other People's Experiences on Laundry Detergent Allergy
"I used a regular laundry detergent over a long period of time with minor irritation. When I switched to the bleach alternative of the same product, there was a massive skin reaction. Extensive swelling and itchy rashes occurred all over my body, including the groin area, legs, and underarms. My eyes swelled shut and I had to seek medical care urgently. I was given an injection to treat the laundry detergent allergy."
"I experienced flare-ups despite changing my detergent to a hypoallergenic one. I discovered later that is was possible that I was actually reacting to detergent that was used by the previous person using the washing machine and drier. I treated my flare-ups with oral antihistamines and didn't use any laundry detergent anymore."