Should I avoid something if it was only diagnosed as a “Sensitivity” rather than an allergy?

This question pops up on Facebook almost as often as “Which products should I use to avoid ‘x’ chemical?” A positive patch test for chemical allergies can provide some complicated results. Not only do you have to get your head around all of the chemical names and where these chemicals are found but you also get a rating showing how badly your skin reacted to each chemical. The scale can range from “irritant or sensitivity” right up to “4+”. Some doctors will tell you to avoid your allergens but ignore the chemicals for which you only had an irritant reaction. Some will tell you to avoid them all. What does it all mean, and what should you do?

  1. A number means that you had what they would consider an allergic reaction. “4+” is the highest level of reaction and means that you had a very strong allergic reaction to that chemical. “1” is the lowest ranking given to allergic reactions and indicates a much less severe reaction. When just beginning to remove allergens from your life, especially when you are tested positive for an allergen (or more than one) that is everywhere, it makes sense to tackle the higher numbers first. You should probably look at removing all of your allergens over time to fully relieve your allergies.
  2. Although there are many doctors who will tell you to ignore your irritant or sensitivity reactions, there is danger in heeding their words. Allergies are caused by your immune system going on high alert (over-functioning) when in most people contact with that substance produces no immune response. This creates inflammation in the body. When your immune system is already on high alert, it more easily decides that other substances are invaders as well, going on the attack with substances to which you had no prior reaction. That small amount of irritation on your skin indicated that your immune system was stepping up in response to the substance, even if it’s in a minimal way, and causing inflammation. Until you let your body “stand down,” you’re at a higher risk for developing more allergies. Not to mention that you will likely be more sensitive to your stronger allergens if your body is already on alert.

So should you avoid substances to which you had only a “sensitivity” or “irritant” reaction? Yes – If you want to feel better and avoid further allergies.

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