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Many types of bandages use adhesives to help them stick to your skin and cover wounds. But it’s possible to be allergic to the materials in these adhesives. It’s also possible to be allergic to the latex or rubber accelerators in the bandage itself.
An allergy to adhesive bandages may be uncomfortable, but there are alternative options available.
If you’re allergic to adhesive bandages, you’ll often react to acrylate and methacrylate. These are chemicals commonly used in tape adhesives to make them sticky.
Symptoms of both types of contact dermatitis include:
- cracked and scaly skin
- blisters, which may ooze, especially if scratched
- crusting over the rash or blisters
Allergic contact dermatitis leads to more severe versions of these symptoms. It’s an immune reaction to an allergen, but it usually only affects the area that comes into contact with the allergen.
Irritant contact dermatitis happens when the skin comes into contact with a toxic or irritating material. It can even be caused simply by the tight fit of the bandage.
Symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis can get worse with each exposure, while irritant contact dermatitis symptoms are usually the same intensity every time.
You may be able to diagnose an allergic reaction to bandages on your own if you always get a rash under a Band-Aid or other adhesives. But if your symptoms are severe, or even just start to bother you, you may want an official diagnosis from a doctor. You can go to a primary care doctor, a dermatologist, or an allergist or immunologist.
If you have symptoms when you go to the doctor, they’ll examine them. But if not, they’ll ask about your symptoms and their severity. They’ll also try to figure out what’s triggering your symptoms. If you can, bring Band-Aids you’ve used or anything else you think might have caused the allergic reaction.
If the doctor thinks you might have allergic contact dermatitis, they may do a patch test on your back to check for allergies and help identify the trigger. With a patch test, they’ll put small amounts of potential allergens on your skin and check for reactions a few days later. Allergic contact dermatitis from adhesives is much rarer than irritant contact dermatitis.
- Use an anti-itch cream or lotion, such as calamine lotion or a cream with at least 1 percent hydrocortisone. Many anti-itch creams are available over the counter. However, if these don’t work or the rash is severe, a doctor may be able to give you a prescription-strength anti-inflammatory cream (topical corticosteroids).
- Take an antihistamine, such as Benadryl, to reduce itching. Many types of antihistamines are available over the counter.
- Keep the area moisturized.
- Avoid scratching the rash. You might be itchy, but scratching can lead to broken skin, which raises your risk for an infection. It may also spread the allergen.
- Use a cool compress on the area.
- Soak the affected body part in an oatmeal bath.
If you’re allergic to traditional bandage adhesives, there are alternatives available and ways to protect yourself. You can try:
- Skin barrier film. This is a spray or wipe that forms a protective layer between your skin and the bandage. It can be easily removed with soap and water after you take off the bandage. Just remember that you can’t put it on your face or directly on a wound. You can get skin barrier film at most drugstores. Buy it online.
- Hypoallergenic tape. This includes cloth surgical tape or paper tape. Buy it online.
- Gauze. Cut a piece of gauze and place it over your wound, then use an elastic tubular band to hold the gauze in place. You can get bands of different sizes and for different body parts online or in a drugstore. Buy tubular bands online.
If you think you might be allergic to adhesive bandages, tell your surgeon beforehand. They might be able to use an alternative dressing to cover your surgical wound.
If you develop a rash after surgery, tell your doctor as soon as you can after noticing the rash. While most rashes after surgery are harmless and go away within a few days of taking off the dressing, it could be a sign of a more serious issue.
If you have a rash all over your body, a fever, or the rash is painful or spreads quickly, call your doctor immediately. You may need to go to the emergency room.
It’s possible to be allergic to the adhesives used in bandages. But the most common reaction is irritant contact dermatitis, which is not a true allergic reaction. Most rashes caused by adhesive bandages can be treated at home, but see a doctor if the rash is painful, if it blisters, or if you have other symptoms like a fever or shortness of breath.