August 23, 2019
Allergies at the Beach
Picture it: toes in the sand, wind on your face, waves crashing… There’s nothing quite like escaping your to-do list at the beach. But can you escape your allergies too?
Many pollen allergy sufferers report that they breathe easier in the salty sea air. The breeze does help minimize pollen counts compared to inland areas. That does not mean the beach is entirely free of pollen though, so playing in the sand and surf in the late morning and early afternoon will avoid peak pollen times. Incredibly, wind can carry ragweed pollen particles up to 400 miles!
Your eyes need protection from the bright sun, and sunglasses will do double duty by keeping irritating pollen particles out of your eyes. Another helpful tip: swimming in salt water can help flush pollen and other allergens from your nose. So if you’re at the beach, might as well take a refreshing dip in the water.
The beach won’t give mold or dust allergy sufferers a break. Mold flourishes in humid, damp conditions both at the beach and indoors near the coast. Likewise, dust loves warm temperatures and humidity, so don’t let your guard down if you have either of these year-round allergies.
Chemicals in some sunscreens can cause contact dermatitis, an itchy red rash. This may occur only on skin that has had the most sun exposure and not everywhere sunscreen was applied. Obviously, we can’t just ditch sunscreen altogether! Instead, try to avoid oxybenzone and find sunscreens that have titanium dioxide, zinc oxide, and not much else. These ingredients provide great sun protection and are much better for sensitive skin.
Even with the right sunscreen, some people have allergic reactions to sun exposure. This may be the result of a medical condition or a side effect of medication (check yours to see if sun sensitivity is listed and take precautions to stay in the shade if necessary).
Polymorphous light eruption (PMLE) is the most common sun allergy. People with this condition get a rash within hours of being in the sun. The reaction can include raised red areas or blisters. Hives that appear just a few minutes after sun exposure may result from a rare and sometimes serious condition called solar urticaria. Heat rash, also called Miliaria, results from a rise in body temperature. This isn’t specifically sun-related, but sitting out in the hot sun at the beach can definitely cause the increased body heat that results in an uncomfortable heat rash.
Swimming in salt water may clean all the sand off, but it can also end in what’s called “seabather’s eruption.” This itchy rash appears after exposure to tiny jellyfish larvae. These larvae can become trapped in your swimsuit, at which point they release a toxin into your skin. The rash may not erupt until you get out of the water or take a shower. Although unrelated to lice of any sort, you may hear these critters and the resulting reaction called sea lice.
Don’t let any of these pesky allergens keep you from enjoying a beach adventure! Just keep potential allergy pitfalls in the back of your mind while soaking in the surf, sun, and sand.