That cold may not be a cold. Fabric allergies cause similar symptoms. The runny nose, watery eyes and sneezing are not the only problems that come from fabric allergies. Skin rashes are another symptom. In many cases the problem isn’t the actual fabric but the chemicals on the fabric. Understanding the signs of fabric allergies and what to do about it will help you find relief.
Many fabrics are treated with formaldehyde resins. Permanent press is a chemical process, not a specific fabric; however, people who react to the chemical will react when exposed to the treated material, according the U.S. National Library of Medicine. Waterproof fabrics generally have a high concentration of resin applied before they are sold. In addition to clothing, fabric used for drapes, sheets and curtains are also typically treated with resins. People who are sensitive to odors report being able to smell the resins in fabric. Cotton fabric rarely causes allergic reactions; however, when cotton is chemically treated, the chemicals can cause reactions in sensitive people.
Symptoms of fabric allergies include contact dermatitis, a rash on the skin appearing as red bumps or hives that can itch or sting. In most cases the rash appears underneath the waistband of clothing or on the thighs where pants rub against the skin, as well as the underarms. Left untreated, contact dermatitis can put you at risk for bacterial infection. Other fabric allergy symptoms include watery eyes, scratchy throat and runny nose.
Fabric allergies come in two varieties. The first is an instant reaction. Soon after the fabric touches the skin, contact dermatitis rash appears. The lesions will dissipate when the clothing is removed. The second type of reaction is delayed. Hours or a day after being exposed to the offending fabric, the symptoms will appear. Many people mistakenly believe they have a cold because the symptoms are similar and can occur well after the offending fabric was present.
Fabric allergies are diagnosed through taking a thorough medical history. Your physician will ask questions about when the symptoms began, what you were wearing and what your curtains, bed sheets and towels are made from. You will have a physical examination to rule out other causes of your symptoms.
Avoidance is the preferred method of treatment. Your doctor will tell you to avoid being around the offending fabric as much as possible. He will also suggest you buy clothing made of natural fabrics such as untreated cotton or raw silk.
Wash all new clothing before wearing it to reduce your risk of a reaction. Replacing window blinds with washable roller shades and making sure curtains throughout the house are made from fabrics not treated with resins will reduce or eliminate reactions. Once an allergic reaction begins, treat symptoms with antihistamines. Seek emergency medical care if breathing becomes difficult or you experience chest tightness or wheezing.