Allergic To My Own Sweat?
September 4, 2008 8:17 PM   Subscribe

Can I be allergic to my own sweat? The past couple summers I've developed itchy rashes on my neck, forehead and inside my elbows. I saw a dermatologist in January when, naturally, I had no symptoms. He actually implied that I was imagining this rash (!) and offered no remedies. Recently a biologist friend suggested I might be allergic to my own perspiration, and I'm increasingly feeling that the evidence supports this. Can this be true?
posted by carterk to Health & Fitness (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My best suggestion is to try to find a different dermatologist. You don't say where you live...if you could give us an idea of your location, maybe someone here can suggest a derm who will take you seriously! I can help for New Orleans and San Francisco.
posted by radioamy at 8:40 PM on September 4, 2008

Could it be Prickly Heat
posted by Good Brain at 8:40 PM on September 4, 2008

I second prickly heat. I also experience this, especially when the weather is really hot.
posted by I_love_the_rain at 8:45 PM on September 4, 2008

I don't know about allergies to one's own sweat, but many rashes from allergies just tend to be strongest in those sweatier zones. Try a different dermatologist for the rash, and then consider getting general allergy testing.
posted by aswego at 8:47 PM on September 4, 2008

Huh. Tell me you've started getting recs for a new derm?

I get an itchy heat-rash type thing in the summer sometimes. If I'm exposed to a bigger-than-usual dose of direct sun (say, a vacation at the beach) it can be pretty terrible, temporarily. It then vanishes without a trace a few hours after my skin cools off.

When I told my derm about this, with apologies that of course it wasn't happening right now, she a) believed me b) invited me to drop in to the office (unannounced) during an occurrence so that she could see the rash and make a real diagnosis. And if away from home, she asked that I try to get photos and to write down a description of the symptoms, as well as logging occurrences.

We discussed whether or not it sounded like prickly heat (maybe, but sweating not affected, I'm not otherwise oversensitive to humidity, not localized enough.) She very tentatively proposed that it sounded like something was increasing my photosensitivity. We discussed possible exacerbating medications/diet/other possible triggers. Treatments that we discussed (pending an in-person examination of a flare-up) included oral antihistamines, topical antihistamines, and some lightbox therapy if it was largely just exposure-related.

So, your dermatologist implying that it's imaginary? Yeah, there's a better way for him to handle that.

Of the top of my head, I wonder if you wear cologne or lotion or hair styling product that's irritating your skin. My armchair-amateur IANAD advice isn't inclined toward that sweat allergy, because you don't mention that your armpits, backs of your knees, chest, back, or groin gets rashy, and these areas are prime sweatybits. Moreso than inside of elbows.
posted by desuetude at 9:02 PM on September 4, 2008

Exercise urticaria might be a useful search term for you. Wikipedia claims the actual cause is your increased body temperature, not the sweat itself. I've got a friend who has this too, diagnosed by a doctor, so don't listen to the doctors who write off your concerns.
posted by vytae at 9:03 PM on September 4, 2008

You could:

1) Sweat a lot
2) Squeeze your shirt in some gladware
3) Drip the resulting sweat on your neck later

You really think this will produce a rash? As an immunologist, (but not a doctor) I seriously doubt it. Your sweat is composed of skin and salt. Salt and most other stuff in sweat is too low in molecular complexity to generate an immune response.

I guess your dead skin could be solublizing something that could activate mast cells, like endotoxins or cytokines/chemokines, but once again, I don't think so..... My mom had this thing called rosacea, and whenever she exerted herself, she broke out in hives. maybe this is more likely?
posted by wuzandfuzz at 9:16 PM on September 4, 2008

Could be yeast, especially if you've been on antibiotics recently.
posted by serena15221 at 9:23 PM on September 4, 2008

Sure, you could be having a bad reaction of some sort in the area which you sweat, and there might even be a causal relationship. But an actual allergy to your sweat is pretty unlikely.

An allergy isn't just a bad reaction to something; it refers to a very specific type of over-the-top immunological response.
posted by Dr. Sam at 9:24 PM on September 4, 2008

Tinea Versicolor?
posted by exlotuseater at 9:28 PM on September 4, 2008

Response by poster: Great suggestions, thanks. I actually misrepresented my friend's advice- she suggested I might be having a "reaction to the salt in my perspiration". I'll check into prickly heat. I had thought it was related to sun exposure, but recently I've reacted strongly when working inside in warm conditions. No antibiotics, and no clue why other parts of my body don't break out, tho the parts that do get pretty sweaty...
posted by carterk at 9:42 PM on September 4, 2008

Pardon me if this is condescending (just suggesting the obvious), but perhaps it's chafing if these areas were covered?
posted by mccarty.tim at 10:07 PM on September 4, 2008

I was in a Judo class with a man that was told by his MD that he was, in effect, allergic to his own sweat. After every class, he would immediately shower (wash hot, rinse cold) and quickly get out of the steamy shower room. He'd get into his other clothes far away from the rest of us where it was cooler. He'd then go stand outside for a while before getting into his car. His doc could not tell him anything more helpful, so he learned to cope with it. He clearly did not let it stop him from being physically fit or indulging his hobby, so obviously there's no reason for you to give up hope!

Perhaps the substances that you exude when you sweat are the problem, and not the perspiration itself. Could the problem therefore be dietary?
posted by Waldo Jeffers at 10:14 PM on September 4, 2008

Gah. I wrote a long reply about this, but my cat went to sleep on my computer's power button and killed the reply. (She has learned to defeat my power-button-blocker fashioned from a quarter, duct tape, and sticky-tac. But I digress.)

Anyway, I have a problem like this. When my body begins to get warm, I get really itchy and feel pins and needles. This happens even in the winter (like when I come into a warm building from the outside). It also happens when I get stressed about something, like when my cat turns off my computer or I am playing a stressful video game. It started randomly a few years ago (it was winter and I was in a crowded train and just started itching like crazy. It hasn't gone away since really.)

I have tried various techniques for making this not happen. I tried anti-histamines (benadryl, claritin, zyrtec). They don't do anything except make me sleepy. I also tried different soaps and lotions, again to no avail.

My solution has been to sweat a lot. I ride my bike at around 80% max heart rate for an hour or two every day (thereabouts). I feel itchy for the first two minutes or so, but after that I just feel warm. After I ride, getting warm again doesn't make me sweat. (Taking a really hot bath used to be an instant trigger for a full-body rash. But not for a day or so after I ride.)

So if you have the same problem as me, I recommend lots of exercise. I have tried other things, but this is a surefire solution to my problem. Hope this helps.
posted by jrockway at 12:12 AM on September 5, 2008

The skin disorder Eczema can be triggered by sweat and I'm sure others can too. The only way you'll ever know for sure is to see a different, competent dermatologist.
posted by cuando at 6:31 AM on September 5, 2008

This article seems to suggest it's possible.

I know a guy who's allergic to the oil his own skin produces. He has to keep his head shaved and wash his face constantly.

His wife is allergic to paper. What are the odds? Maybe they met in an improbable allergy support group.
posted by Evangeline at 7:30 AM on September 5, 2008

yes, you absolutely could be allergic to your own sweat. a lot of people with various types of urticaria are. the allergy has something to do with the histamines that are being released through your sweat and then laying on your skin. it helps to take a shower immediately after sweaty activity.

i have autoimmune urticaria and i'm super sensitive to histamines of all kinds. when i get especially sweaty i get really itchy if i don't take a shower.

there are articles and everything to back up sweat allergy, but i don't have time to find them right now.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 7:32 AM on September 5, 2008

You might also want to look into cholinergic urticaria, which is not quite the same as prickly heat or an allergy to your own sweat, but is basically a reaction to heat where your body starts pumping out histamine like crazy if your average core body temperature changes too much too fast.

Just my personal experience with it here...for a few years now, I've been feeling prickly all over and then breaking out with hives only on my neck, face, and arms whenever my body temperature changes too much. At first I wasn't sure if the problem was an allergy to sweat, or mold in the shower, or what. It took a while to finally make the connection to heat. Now I'm on 10mg Zyrtec and 20mg Pepcid (which is also an antihistamine, believe it or not, and it works synergistically with the Zyrtec) twice a day, and it seems to keep it under control fairly well.

So...I would keep cholinergic urticaria in mind as another possibility in addition to the things already mentioned here.
posted by flod logic at 8:27 AM on September 5, 2008

I have a similar problem and in fact went through most of my childhood with huge raw patches covering the creases of my elbows and behind my knees. And I pretty much constantly have at least *some* raw, dry skin on my hands, usually with micro-blisters under or near it. It gets much worse when it's hot, especially when it's humid, and when I'm stressed out. And yes, sweat made things much much worse.

I have excema and contact dermatitis, and I treat it with Zyrtec (when it's particularly bad/widespread) as well as topical steroids (fluocinonide for mild outbreaks and desoximetasone when it's really bad). I also ONLY use non-dyed, non-perfumed detergent and dryer cloths (Tide Free) and unscented, hypoallergenic lotion and soap (Cetaphil). I should only use Neutrogena shampoo but I can't quite make myself give up my curl-enhancing stuff. When I'm suffering a bad outbreak, I will also use T-Gel and Nizoral anti-dandruff shampoos on the affected areas. (Yes, the T-Gel does make me smell like the La Brea tarpits.) I have to really avoid fragrances and dyes AND, sadly, most organic/natural skin products which nearly invariably have chamomile in them (it's related to ragweed and does BAD BAD THINGS to my skin).

But you should talk about all of this with your dermatologist. Your NEW dermatologist. The one who isn't a dick. Any time a doctor tells you it's all in your head, walk out and find a new doctor.
posted by fuzzbean at 9:22 AM on September 5, 2008

I know someone who's allergic to her own breast milk, so I bet it's possible.

I can't speak to your neck/forehead, but I get prickly heat behind my knees and at the elbows- basically the places where sweaty skin meets sweaty skin for long periods of time. I usually have to just straighten my limbs out more.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:14 AM on September 5, 2008

Seconding Zyrtec. I had all kinds of itchiness which was always particularly bad in the sweaty months of summer. I never had much luck with dermatologists, and topical creams only helped occasionally. I finally went to an allergist (I had other symptoms of allergies as well), got the standard scratch tests, and found out I'm allergic to everything under the sun. Once I started on Zyrtec, the itchiness was controlled. If I forget to take the Zyrtec, I itch again, but as long as I take it, it's all good.
posted by missuswayne at 6:23 AM on September 7, 2008

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