Environmental contact allergies explored

More than five million Germans affected

Nickel-containing fashion jewelry Hemera
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About 15 to 20 percent of the German population is sensitive to at least one more common contact allergen. These include, for example, nickel - from fashion jewelery - or fragrances that are contained in cosmetics and many everyday products. This emerges from a newly published study by the University of Göttingen, which was commissioned by the Federal Environment Agency (UBA). In the large-scale study, more than 60, 000 patients were examined for contact allergies in the private sector.

Around seven percent of the German population - that is more than five million people - suffer from allergic contact dermatitis every year. The problem is that acquired awareness usually persists for a lifetime. Those affected only have to protect themselves from contact with the allergenic substance.

Allergic contact dermatitis is caused by skin contact with allergenic substances, after sensitization, a prolonged increase in sensitivity, has already occurred in earlier contact with this substance. The problem is that acquired awareness usually persists for a lifetime. Those affected only have to protect themselves from contact with the allergenic substance. The prerequisite for this is knowing the most important contact allergens.

Nickel most common allergen

Most often people react to nickel. Especially costume jewelery and piercings lead to sensitization especially among young people. However, the first successes of an avoidance strategy can be seen here: after the release of nickel from products was limited in Germany and later also in the European Union, between 1992 and 2001 the number of sensitizations decreased. An increase of allergy problems through the introduction of nickel-containing EURO coins can not be proven.

More than one million people in Germany are sensitive to fragrances or fragrance mixtures. About 30, 000 fragrances are known. Among the most important allergens here are the substances oak moss (with 6.8 percent positive reactions in the subjects) and isoeugenol (4 percent). So far, there are still no findings as to whether the number of fragrance allergy sufferers is increasing due to the increasing use of fragrances indoors. Here further investigations are necessary. display

Peru balsam and preservative

Another odorant with allergenic properties is Peru balsam, a wound exudate from the Peru balsam tree. Peru balsam is used for example in cosmetics, desserts, tobacco and drinks. The allergy rate is rising, older age groups are more affected. Preservatives can also cause allergies. They are used in cosmetics as well as in many other products such as emulsion paints and adhesives, cleaning and cleaning agents as well as in air conditioning systems. Due to the requirements of the "Blue Angel" eco-label - for example for emulsion paints - the use of some preservatives has been reduced. As a result, a decrease in sensitization rates is clearly detectable. Similar positive developments can be observed as a result of action against formaldehyde and turpentine - a compound that displays allergies to various terpene molecules contained in natural products.

As further problematic allergens, the researchers noticed various clothing dyes, substances used in hair dyes, such as phenylenediamine and para-toluenediamine, as well as epoxy resins in paints, coatings and adhesives. In the period of study from 1995 to 2002, more than 60, 000 patients with eczema in the research project of the IVDK were examined for existing sensitizations with the epicutaneous test. In addition to information on the person (such as age, gender and occupation), possible causes of allergic diseases - for example, colors, jewelery, textiles or cosmetics - were recorded.

(UBA, 23.04.2004 - NPO)