As winter approaches, one would look forward to wearing woollen clothes and enjoying the weather. However, there are some people who are averse to winter clothing, only because it can cause a wool allergy.
Since her childhood, 22-year-old Sneha B, a college student from Bangalore has been prone to allergies. Additionally, wearing woolen clothes caused her allergies to flare up every time the temperature dropped.
“I had a severe wool allergy during a trip to Shillong,” she recalls. “My body and the area surrounding my nose would itch and I felt extremely uncomfortable wearing sweaters or using comforters,” she says. Her trip was also interrupted by constant sneezing. She recalls only being on antihistamine medication while on vacation. “Being on antihistamine medications is the only way for me to manage the reactions to wool allergies, even till this date,” she adds.
What causes wool allergy for some?
In the past, there has always been a debate in regards to whether wool is an allergen or not, however, according to the 2017 study – Debunking the myth of wool allergy: reviewing the evidence for immune and non-immune cutaneous reactions published by Acta Dermato-Venereologica, there is no sufficient evidence that pure wool causes cutaneous (skin) irritation or allergies, however the high fiber diameter present in the wool may contribute to skin irritation or allergies.
Speaking to Happiest Health, Dr Hemalata Arora, an Internal Medicine expert from Nanavati Max Super Speciality Hospital, Mumbai, mentioned that pure wool is in fact hypoallergenic, meaning that the material causes a very low allergic reaction. “What must be checked is if the person is allergic to Lanolin (wool wax from the sheep) or other chemicals present in the wool,” she says. “Lanolin is added to the wool once again during production to make it long-lasting and soft. However, the wool wax may not be suitable for everyone,” she adds.
Symptoms and complications of wool allergy
For some, the prickly material may flare up severe symptoms on their skin, especially for those suffering from Atopy, a genetic condition and eczema with itchy, dry and inflamed skin, according to Dr Sachith Abraham, consultant dermatologist, Manipal Hospital, Bengaluru. “The condition is mostly triggered by the dust mites or pollen particles that would be present in the woolen material leading to a wool allergy,” he explains.
The lanolin present in wool can trigger asthma which leads to severe wheezing and breathlessness, as well as tightness in the chest, Allergic rhinitis (runny nose), and allergic conjunctivitis (red, itchy, and watery eyes) when it comes to respiratory allergies. However, these symptoms are only found in rare conditions, say experts.
“One must note that sometimes along with the possible wool allergy, the dip in the weather can also lead the symptoms to aggravate,” says Dr Manjunath P H, consultant interventional pulmonologist, BGS Gleneagles Global Hospitals, Bangalore. “The density of the allergens will be higher during this weather condition, hence people sensitive to wool are susceptible to these triggers,” he says.
Treatment for wool allergy
Before taking any medications, experts stress the importance of taking a patch test, to check whether the person is allergic to wool or not. “During a patch test, we place a patch with the wool antigen. After the removal of the patch post 72 hours, if the person has reacted to the allergen, then he/she will be treated accordingly,” says Dr Sachith. “If the symptoms are mild, the person will be prescribed antihistamines,” he says.
“My advice is to apply a coat of petroleum jelly before wearing woolen clothes. It acts like a barrier on the skin, so any allergen directly touching the skin can be minimized,” he adds.
For those who find wearing woolen clothes and woolen materials difficult and refuse to do so during winter, Dr Sachith suggests layering them with garments that are comfortable. “Layer your woolen clothes with a comfortable material beneath them,” he advises.
How to prevent woolen allergy
Dr Hemalatha stresses that wool allergy can be controlled to an extent depending on how the material is stored. “Since we don’t wash woolen materials regularly and only use them after six or eight months, if not stored in clean places, there are chances that there can be dust accumulation.” she says. “Ensure they are packed in vacuum-sealed bags.”
Experts also suggest that it’s essential to make sure that the woolen garments or comforters are not damp and are stored in a dry space as it can help to avoid molds and other bacterial infections from manifesting, causing the allergies to worsen.
“I would also suggest investing in woolen materials of fine quality and to also keep in check of where the garment is being produced and what are the other additives in it, which could trigger allergies,” she says.
- Why wool allergy takes place is still in the line of research, however, it is said that pure wool is not an allergen.
- Dust mites, pollen and chemicals added to wool apart from the natural wool wax Lanolin are possible triggers of a wool allergy.
- Atopic dermatitis, rhinitis, asthma and allergic conjunctivitis are some common conditions that wool allergy triggers.
- Experts advise applying a coat of petroleum jelly onto the skin before using woolen material.
- Store woolen materials in a cool and dry place to avoid dust accumulation.