Saturday, December 17, 2011

Patch Testing

This week I embarked on an interesting test to find out what chemicals, metals, and other surgery related substances I am allergic to.  The reason I felt the test was needed goes back to the last time I had stitches.  The sutures were supposed to dissolve in a week or two, and heal up in about the same time frame, but it took over 8 weeks for them to dissolve.  My allergist believed I was allergic to a material in the sutures, but just in case it was something else related to the procedure or daily life, he tested me for a full 56 substances (a near-record for the allergy clinic). The substances were chosen based on an incredibly thorough series of questions about things or situations that have irritated my skin in the past.

Patch testing is somewhat miserable. Especially if you are being tested for so many things.  It requires you to literally have patches taped on to your skin to see if your skin reacts to contact with the substances in the patches.  Each patch has a number so they can check back on the list to see what you are reacting to.  You have to wear them for two days (my whole upper back was covered with patches locked down with adhesive tape), then have them removed and read on the 3rd day, and have a second reading on the 4th day.  And you cannot exercise or get the patches wet during that time. I was so glad to have the patches removed, and then even more overjoyed to have the second reading so I could go home and shower!
My patches, before being covered by tape.
 The joy at the test being over, however, was tempered by the results - that I am chemically sensitive to 6 substances or categories: Nickel, diphenylguanadine, quinoline mix, carba mix, potassium dichromate, and amidoamine.  Six doesn't sound so bad, right?  Well, these six substances can go by dozens of names, and also are mixed in with other materials.  Nickel, for example, is found in stainless steel, jewelry, medical screws, dyes, snaps, scissors, batteries, zippers, and even doorknobs.  The potassium dichromate (chrome), is found in dissolvable sutures, detergents, tattoos, bleach, makeup, construction materials, ink, copy paper, vitamin supplements, and even pool table felt among many others.  The other substances I am sensitive to are fond in rubber/foams/plastic/leather manufacturing, and in personal care products like shampoo, soap, ointment, and lotion.

So the problem I had with healing from the sutures a number of months ago? It was described by the Dr. like a perfect storm: An allergy to the stainless steel needle used, the sutures themselves, the antibacterial agents, and adhesives used in pads/bandages. Then I followed up by keeping it clean daily using soap I was likely allergic to. No wonder I had a problem healing!

I now have a whole packet of information I need to compile into a master chemical/metal names list, so I can check products at the store before buying them.  I am sad that some of the products I have used in the past I will have to discard, but I had already self-selected for some products that were less irritating, and so hopefully I will be able to keep some of them.  And the sensitivity I have is not so severe that I will have to wear gloves to touch a doorknob or a fork. I would only experience discomfort if in prolonged contact with the things I am sensitive to.  Now, armed with this knowledge, I face a much less itchy future.  If I need any surgical procedures done, I can share this information with my physician and help ensure a successful healing.  This test is an investment that I am glad I made.

1 comment:

Molly Odell said...

Wow, that is really interesting, and unfortunate for you, April! This actually sort of clears up something for me though - I get a terrible rash on my neck every time I try to wear a metal necklace. I bet I am sensitive to one of those substances. My skin allergies are not nearly as bad as they were when I was a kid though - I could barely go in a swimming pool or salt water and I couldn't use most soaps or lotions. On the other hand, I used to wear metal jewelry all the time. I guess allergies do change. Glad you got at least some of them figured out - it might be an inconvenience at first, but I'm sure you will feel so much better!