An allergic reaction is a common experience that occurs when your body comes in contact with a substance, or allergen, that causes an immune system response. Individual responses differ, as do the substances that trigger a reaction. An allergic reaction to chemicals commonly used in the dry cleaning process suggests a form of contact dermatitis or chemical sensitivity that can range from mild to life-threatening. Consult your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of an allergic response.
Common Chemicals Used in Dry Cleaning
Chemicals commonly used in dry cleaning include perchloroethylene, a cleaning solvent that is implicated in many adverse reactions among dry-cleaning workers and their customers. A 1999 article published by the EPICOH 14th International Conference on Epidemiology in Occupational Health explains that perchloroethylene is associated with respiratory problems ranging from mild to deadly. Detergents, precleaning agents and bleach also are used in dry cleaning and can cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. So-called "organic" or "green" dry cleaners often use an organic, but still potentially dangerous, chemical known as DF-2000.
An allergic reaction is the triggering of your immune system by a perceived antigen or invader. The immune system releases chemicals called histamines that cause your mucous membranes to secrete fluids, causing watery eyes and runny nose. Histamines also trigger the swelling of the mucous membranes in an effort to close off potential routes for antigens. This causes the stuffy nose and swollen eyes many people experience with allergies. In its most severe form, an allergic reaction can completely close off your respiratory system, which is the mechanism behind asthma.
Chemical Sensitivity and Contact Dermatitis
A sensitivity to chemicals used in dry cleaning also can trigger an allergic reaction, but chemical sensitivity has a more vague set of symptoms. According to the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, chemical sensitivity can manifest as common allergy symptoms but can escalate to a heightened sensitivity. This condition is characterized by a hyper-reactivity of your immune system to lesser amounts of chemicals that have triggered a reaction. Direct contact of clothing that contains dry cleaning solutions can cause contact dermatitis, an inflammation of your skin that can cause hives, itching and lesions on the skin.
Treatment and Prevention
Treatment for an allergic reaction that does not involve life-threatening swelling of the respiratory system includes prescription and over-the-counter decongestants and antihistamines. If you believe your allergic reaction is caused by dry cleaning solution, avoid wearing clothing that is dry cleaned and purchase clothing that does not require chemical cleaning. Allergy treatment injections may help decrease your sensitivity to certain chemicals that are based in natural compounds, but this treatment typically does not address a chemical allergy. Individuals who have had serious reactions to an allergen, including dry cleaning solution, should wear a medical identification bracelet.
- Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: Chemical Sensitivities
- National Institutes of Health: Allergic Reactions
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Drycleaning
- EPICOH 14th International Conference on Epidemiology in Occupational Health: Mortality in Dry-Cleaning Workers: An Update
- ExxonMobile Chemical: DF-2000 Fluid For Dry Cleaning
- National Institutes of Health: Contact Dermatitis