20 Bizarre Things You Didn’t Know You Could Be Allergic To
These are the everyday things that you can be allergic to that might surprise you.
Pollen and dust aren’t the only allergy culprits. Everything from various animal products to your own sweat could cause allergies. Here’s what you need to know.
Cats, dogs, and other furry pets are known to cause sneezing fits in those allergic to their dander, but reptiles can be allergy culprits, too. “Your immune system senses that all the little proteins in their skin are bad, so it goes after them and causes allergy symptoms,” says Richard Lavi, MD, of the Allergy Asthma & Sinus Relief Center in Twinsburg, Ohio. A university in Spain even published a case study about a 42-year-old woman who suffered allergy symptoms like itchy eyes, runny nose, and asthma caused by her pet iguana. (Pets are one of the top indoor allergens.)
“It’s pretty unusual but people can be allergic to semen,” says Philip Halverson, MD, of Allergy & Asthma Specialists in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Symptoms are typically confined to the area of contact, so oral sex will cause irritation in the mouth or throat and women can develop vaginitis, inflammation of the vagina that causes unusual discharge, itching, or pain. (Here are some other signs you’re allergic to sex.)
No, this isn’t a trick to get you to spend less time on your phone. Electronics that contain metals like nickel could cause contact dermatitis—a skin condition resulting in a rash or swollen, itchy skin after touching something the person is sensitive or allergic to, according to the American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology. And it’s more common than you might think. In fact, a 2015 review in Dermatitis of more than 50 years worth of literature on nickel dermatitis found that rates of this allergy are rising.
“Anything with four legs can cause a delayed food reaction that doesn’t happen right away like with typical food allergies,” says Dr. Lavi. “Most people say ‘Oh boy, I’m in Hell’ within a few minutes, but in this unusual case it takes between four and six hours for a horrible reaction to occur.” The truly weird part of this animal meat allergy, called alpha-gal allergy, is that it most commonly affects people who have been bitten by a Lone Star tick, prevalent in the southeast United States. Symptoms include rash, nausea, cramps, sneezing, headache, and stuffy nose.
This is so rare that it’s unlikely you’ll be able to add this to your list of excuses to skip the gym: exercise-induced anaphylaxis. This uncommon allergy is actually triggered by the food you eat before working out. Unlike regular food allergies, people with this condition don’t have a reaction until after they start physically exerting themselves; once they do, skin and respiratory symptoms pop out of nowhere. “Exercise heats your body up and your immune system reacts to the proteins breaking down in your stomach,” says Dr. Lavi. Wheat, seafood, celery, and cheese are foods found to be a trigger in those with the condition.
Don’t give up your Sunday morning pancakes just yet. Unless you’re allergic to one of the ingredients in the batter, pancakes themselves aren’t the cause of what allergists call “Pancake Syndrome;” dust mites are. “Pancake mixes and other powdery ingredients that sit in boxes in the pantry can get contaminated by dust mites. Then you essentially eat a whole meal of dust mites and breakfast in bed becomes breakfast in the ER,” says Dr. Lavi.
People who are allergic to latex will also be allergic to condoms made of latex. Doctors became aware of latex allergies when latex gloves were prevalent in medical settings many years ago, says Dr. Halverson. You and your partner should check the list of ingredients before choosing a condom.
If you break out in hives on a hot, humid day, you could have an allergic reaction to your own sweat. “It’s called cholinergic urticaria and pops up out of the blue. You get little bumps that itch like sin and when you cool down they go away real fast,” says Dr. Lavi.
“Wool can be itchy just because of its hairy nature, but it also contains lanolin so people can be truly allergic to wool products if they’re allergic to that,” says Dr. Lavi. Lanolin is a wax secreted by wool-bearing animals, like sheep.
Cheap jewelry often contains nickel, one of the most common skin allergies. If you notice the skin around your ring or earrings turning dark green, that’s a sign they contain nickel; but it’s not an allergic reaction, just a natural oxidizing reaction between the acid in your skin and the metal, says Dr. Lavi. A true allergic reaction produces a red itchy rash and will happen every time you wear the offending piece.
The sulfites in wine can trigger symptoms in people with asthma and some get a stuffy nose, sneeze, cough, or wheeze immediately after sipping other alcoholic beverages, says Dr. Lavi.
Unless your child is a budding entomologist who collects insects from the backyard, you’ll probably never have to worry about monitoring their exposure to grasshoppers—unless they have a pet that feasts on them, that is. Lizards and bearded dragons often eat grasshoppers as their main food source and are becoming a popular pet choice. The University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna found that an eight-year-old boy’s nightly asthma attacks were actually an allergic reaction to his brand-new bearded dragon’s grasshopper dinners. Researchers suggest keeping reptile food outside, just in case.
“Some people jump in a lake, pool, or shower and suddenly break out in hives,” says Dr. Halverson. The reason: they’re allergic to water. Aquagenic urticaria is a rare condition that causes the skin to break out in hives (that may or may not itch) as soon as it comes in contact with water. Scientists still aren’t sure exactly what causes the reaction but they think a substance dissolved in the water triggers an immune response in the body.
If your lips and mouth itch or tingle whenever you bite into an apple, your pollen allergy could be to blame instead of the fruit itself. People with allergies to tree pollen often will have similar reactions to fruits that grow on them. “That particular food allergy tends to be confined to the mouth, throat, and an itchy tongue without more serious symptoms. It’s a mild food allergy,” says Dr. Halverson. (Learn more about other things that can trigger your spring allergies.)
Breastfeeding mothers often use creams to soothe the skin around their nipples and prevent soreness. But many of these balms contain lanolin and can do more harm than good if you’re allergic to this substance (again, produced by wool-bearing animals). If you notice a rash or swelling that seems too severe to be from ordinary breastfeeding, look for a lanolin-free product and see if symptoms clear up.
Topical treatments used to treat lice outbreaks may contain pyrethrins, a substance derived from chrysanthemum flowers that kills live lice and can trigger an allergic reaction in people with a chrysanthemum or ragweed allergy. Consider trying one of these home remedies for lice instead.
“You can technically be allergic to just about anything and that includes the cold, it’s a real deal thing,” says Dr. Lavi. Cold urticaria causes sufferers to break out in itchy hives when they spend time in the cold or cold water. Antihistamines may help.
Trees that secrete sap can trigger an allergic reaction similar to poison ivy symptoms, thanks to an oily allergen called urushiol that the two share. “It’s usually a contact allergy, so you have to touch it to be affected, but it could be airborne if you burned a lot of pine needles, though that’s unusual,” says Dr. Lavi.
Though extremely rare, some people can be allergic to the sun and break out in hives, blisters, or a rash that may be painful or itchy. It’s unclear how and why sunlight is the cause of solar urticaria, according to the British Association of Dermatologists.
Cosmetics with a fragrance sometimes contain components of Balsam of Peru, a Central American tree that can be an allergen. “Balsam is extracted to use in some cosmetics and people can get rashes due to their makeup,” says Dr. Levi. (People with allergies should also note these makeup tricks that help hide allergy symptoms.)
- Richard Lavi, MD, of the Allergy Asthma & Sinus Relief Center in Twinsburg, Ohio
- The Journal of Investigational Allergology and Clinical Immunology: "Exotic Pets Are New Allergenic Sources: Allergy to Iguana"
- Philip Halverson, MD, of Allergy & Asthma Specialists in Minneapolis, Minnesota
- American College of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology: "Contact Dermatitis"
- Dermatitis: "Nickel Allergy in Adults in the U.S.: 1962 to 2015."
- World Allergy Organization Journal: "Caution: Reptile pets shuttle grasshopper allergy and asthma into homes"
- National Center for Advancing Traditional Sciences: "Aquagenic urticaria"
- Agency For Toxic Substances and Disease Registry: "Public Health Statement for Pyrethrins and Pyrethroids"
- British Association of Dermatology: "SOLAR URTICARIA"