In most parts of the country, fall weather is settling in and many people are beginning to shake out their down comforters, make hot chocolate, and re-stock dresser drawers with favorite wool sweaters. While these three rituals can mean several things to allergy sufferers, today we're going to explore wool allergies.
Although an actual allergy to wool itself is rare, there are a few ways in which wool can affect those with allergies. Lanolin is a naturally occurring substance that helps sheep shed water from their coats, and many individuals who think they are allergic to wool are actually allergic to this ‘wool wax.’ Lanolin is also often used in creams and lotions, especially natural ones, and can cause allergic reactions through this type of exposure as well.
In addition to lanolin allergies, wool can trigger allergies by causing exposure to cat dander. In a 2007 article, Seniors and Asthma, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) says, ‘A recent study at the University of Sydney found people who wore wool sweaters were exposed to more than 10 times the amount of cat dander than individuals wearing no upper body clothing. People who wore freshly washed T-shirts were exposed to the least amount of cat dander.’ Of course, wool can also act as a carrier for dust mite allergen and other allergens, especially if sweaters are washed infrequently.
Another way that wool causes problems for allergic individuals is by irritating sensitive skin and exacerbating eczema. Indeed, in Tips to Remember: Allergic Skin Conditions, the AAAAI lists wool as a contact irritant that can trigger eczema. This type of contact irritation could be alleviated by wearing another layer beneath the wool so that the wool doesn't come into contact with the skin.
Anyone out there have any wool sensitivity stories or tips to share?