Allergic reactions to dry cleaning solutions are uncommon, but they do occur. The most common dry cleaning solution used in the United States is perchloroethylene. According to OSHA, over 70% of dry cleaners use the dry cleaning solution perchloroethylene. A person's skin can become allergic to dry cleaning solutions after one exposure or after many exposures.
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The Allergic Reaction to Dry Cleaning Solutions is a Contact Dermatitis
A contact dermatitis is an allergic skin reaction to a substance it has been exposed to. It is a delayed reaction that occurs 12 to 72 hours after the skin has been exposed to the allergen. This allergic reaction can cause redness, itching, dry, scaly patches of skin, darkened, cracked skin, oozing blisters or hives. The predominant symptom is intense itching.
This skin reaction or rash is not contagious and is not communicable. Most allergic skin reactions will resolve completely within 2-3 weeks.
However, according to the Merck Manual, reactivity to the allergen is usually lifelong.
What to Do?
If you are exposed to dry cleaning solution, wash the skin in the area of contact thoroughly with mild soap and cold water. Wash the clothes involved in hot water or dispose of them, if washing in hot water is not possible.
It is important to determine the exact source of the allergic reaction, as it is possible that the allergic skin reaction is due to a clothing-related substance other than dry cleaning solutions. According to MedlinePlus, clothing items such as certain fabrics, nickel or other metals used in zippers, watch straps, bra hooks or buttons can cause allergic skin reactions.
If you have a skin rash that won't go away, visit your doctor.
Diagnosis and Treatment
According to the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, the patch test is "the gold standard" for determining the allergen causing an allergic contact dermatitis. In this test, small samples of chemicals are placed, without needles or pricking, directly on an area of skin to see if a skin reaction develops. These areas of the skin are then evaluated after 48 hours and again at 96 hours or one week.
The treatment of the allergic reaction depends upon the type of symptoms manifested. In some cases, the best treatment may be no treatment. Therefore, it is import to consult your physician. Treatments include topical or oral corticosteroids, antihistamines, lotions and /or creams.
Preventing an Allergic Reaction to Dry Cleaning Solutions
If you have had an allergic reaction to dry cleaning solutions, avoid the use of dry cleaners who use dry cleaning solutions, such as perchloroethylene. If you work at a dry cleaning establishment, wear gloves and long sleeves to minimize contact with the dry cleaning solutions. Ask the dry cleaner to write down the names of the dry cleaning solutions used. Take the information to your doctor and consult with him or her.