Fruit seems fairly harmless, and your go-to supermarket staples don't typically do anything but provide the vitamins and nutrients your body needs to thrive. But when it comes to mango, that's not always the case. For some, the tropical fruit can result in an uncomfortable rash.
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What's Behind the Rash?
The rind or skin of a mango contains an allergenic compound called urushiol — the same oily sap that's found in plants like poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac.
"It can cause contact dermatitis in people who are hypersensitive to it," says Gretchen Frieling, MD, a Boston-area dermatopathologist, a subspecialty that combines dermatology and pathology. "People who are peeling the mango themselves and having skin-to-rind contact can develop a skin rash."
If you do have an allergic reaction to the mango skin, don't worry — it's not contagious and is not known to be dangerous or life-threatening, like other food allergies, though it can be very uncomfortable.
"If you're hypersensitive to urushiol oil and you come into contact with the rind of the mango, your body detects the allergenic agent and begins releasing inflammatory chemicals throughout the body, which can cause redness, rashes, blisters, itchiness and discomfort," Dr. Frieling says.
Depending on the amount of contact you had with the irritant, she says the rashes you experience could be localized to a single part of your body or could span both hands, into your arms.
People with this allergy who eat the fruit with the peel intact could also develop rashes in and outside their mouth, as well as on the chin and neck, as a result. For some, the reaction can be immediate; for others it may develop up to 48 hours after exposure to urushiol oil, the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology points out.
How to Prevent the Rash
According to Dr. Frieling, people don't typically have an allergic reaction to mangoes unless they're handling the peeling, as urushiol oil is only located in the rind, not the flesh of the fruit. If you're sensitive to urushiol oil, you can prevent a rash by buying pre-cut mango from the grocery store, having someone else prepare the mango for you or wearing gloves when peeling the fruit in order to prevent direct contact, she says.
What works or doesn't work depends on the person. "If you notice you're so sensitive that you can't even ingest mango without feeling sick or having to run to an antihistamine, your best option is to avoid the mango completely," she says.
Treating a Mango Rash
If you wind up with a rash due to a mango allergy, Dr. Frieling says it's important to avoid picking or scratching your rash, no matter how badly you want to. "Your skin is already inflamed, and scratching will only agitate and make the itch worse while also introducing bacteria from your nails into your already-sensitive skin," she says.
To calm the area, start by washing it with a bland soap and lukewarm water, taking time to massage the soap into the affected area. Any harsh skincare ingredients — such as alcohol and fragrances — should be avoided until your rash begins to fade.
"Next, apply a simple moisturizing agent such as Aquaphor or a formula made to deal with inflammation, such as Eczema Relief Flare-Up Treatment," Dr. Frieling suggests. "If the itch isn't bearable, apply an anti-itch cream."
If the itchiness isn't subsiding and the irritation and redness persist or worsen, Dr. Frieling recommends taking an antihistamine like Benadryl. "This will prevent the release of inflammatory chemicals from within the body," she says.
If your rash is persistent or so uncomfortable that it's causing problems in your day-to-day life, the Mayo Clinic recommends seeing a doctor for additional treatment.
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