Itching skin and a raised, bumpy rash at the site of contact are the most common signs of an allergic reaction to silicone. More generalized symptoms can also include watery eyes, airway constriction, and anaphylactic shock, but these tend to be very rare. People who have a bad reaction to silicone while wearing a therapeutic mask or while connected to a medical device made of the substance may also experience anxiety and claustrophobia, symptoms which often last for hours or days after the contact has stopped.
Silicone allergies tend to be very rare, but most medical scholars agree that they do exist in a small number of people. Most cases present as contact-based allergies, which means that the skin reacts in response to actually touching silicone or silicone-containing products. A red, raised rash that is limited to the silicone zone is usually the first sign that something is wrong. Swelling and intense itchiness is also common.
Eye and Airway Problems
People who suffer from this sort of allergy often have much more intense reactions when the substance actually enters their bodies, either as a result of an intentional cosmetic injection or a leak or break in a sealed implant. Medications that include silicone either as an ingredient or a stabilizer can also be to blame. When the allergen hits a person’s bloodstream it can cause watery eyes, blurred vision, dizziness, and nausea. In particularly severe cases the airway can also constrict and the lungs can grow inflamed, making breathing difficult. Localized swelling often still happens in these cases, but it usually happens in conjunction with these more serious consequences, which can make it harder to notice right away.
If silicone allergies are rare, truly life-threatening reactions are rarer still — but they happen. Anaphylaxis, also known as anaphylactic shock, is a medical emergency where the allergen triggers a histamine response in the body that results in sudden hives and swelling of the throat. This is different from a simple airway swelling since, if untreated, it can actually cut off a person’s oxygen and has been known to lead to a somewhat rapid death. Most people with a known allergy of this magnitude carry an epinephrine injection device that can buy them time until they can get to a hospital for treatment with adrenaline and supportive care.
Anxiety and Claustrophobia
Silicone is used in continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) masks worn by obstructive sleep apnea patients, and if one of these patients has an allergy to the substance he or she may experience anxiety and claustrophobia. In most cases these symptoms aren’t strictly related to the allergy — most of the time, patients are predisposed for them from the outset — but the allergy often makes the condition much more pronounced, to the point where it can become debilitating.
Understanding the Different Types of Silicone
A big part of understanding an allergic reaction to silicone is understanding the many forms of the substance. Silicone has many uses both household and commercial. It is usually the case that medical grade silicone is free of allergens, and most people with reactions have come into contact with commercial products that aren’t subject to the same regulations and purity standards.
Medical grade silicone is an inert substance composed of polymers that are generally safe to use around living tissue. This sort of material is used in catheters, baby bottle nipples, and facial implants among other things. Use of these items is not known to trigger an allergic reaction, but there may be additives or other ingredients that can do so.
Some of the most popularly known medical silicone is used in cosmetic implants. Most of the time implants are encapsulated in a tough shell from which the substance can’t escape. Liquid silicone is not approved for cosmetic use in many countries, including the United States, since it often triggers an inflammatory response. When used in large quantities, it sometimes migrates from the injection site and can cause granulomas, or lumpy inflamed tissue, and possibly even embolisms. Pain is often the first symptom of an allergic reaction to this kind of injection.
Industrial silicone used in household products and common accessories is not as pure or subject to as much testing as medical grade silicone, so there is a higher chance contaminants may be present. Contaminants don’t always make allergies more likely, but they can aggravate preexisting conditions. People can encounter the chemical in a range of settings. Many cleaners, some contact lenses, and a number of fashion elements incorporate this compound, and many rubber compounds include it as an ingredient, too.
Treatments and Diagnoses
The most common way to test for a silicone allergy is with a skin patch test. This usually involves exposing a small region of skin, normally on the inner arm, to diluted pure silicon. Patients are usually kept for observation to see what sort of reaction, if any, happens. People who test positive are usually advised to either avoid silicone or take precautions to minimize their risk of flare-up or breakout.
In medical settings, fixing the problem may be as simple as outfitting devices like CPAP with barriers that keep the offending parts off the skin. Hydrocortisone creams and oral antihistamines can often help calm the irritated area, too. In the case of liquid silicone, it’s often the case that removal of the affected tissue is the only way to help alleviate the inflammatory response.
Steps To Take If You Suspect a Silicone Allergy
It’s important not to jump to conclusions regarding silicone allergies, which are exceedingly rare. Red, burning and itching rashes on the skin are called contact dermatitis. They can be caused by allergic reactions to certain ingredients, but they can also happen because of strong irritants. Poorly made silicone products such as wedding bands can sometimes trigger contact dermatitis, not because of the silicone, but because of other irritant chemicals used during production.
If you think you may be allergic to silicone, make an appointment with your doctor to be sure. You should visit a doctor right away if you notice the following symptoms:
- The allergic reaction happens on your face
- You notice symptoms in the genital area
- The rash spreads or feels painful
- The symptoms don’t go away after several weeks
- You have trouble breathing because of swelling
- Your mouth or throat feels like it’s burning
- You have a fever
- The rash looks infected (e.g., you notice sores or pus)
The doctor can prescribe antihistamine medication or hydrocortisone creams to lessen the symptoms. It may take 12–36 hours or more for the allergic reaction to fade completely, though.
Silicone Allergy What To Avoid
Countless everyday items contain silicone, from beauty products to cleaning products:
- Hand soaps and dish soaps
- Hair products
- Skin creams
- Personal lubricants
- Laundry detergents
- Makeup sponges
- Contact lenses
If your doctor discovers you have a silicone allergy, you need to avoid contact with all products that contain silicone. You should also carry a medical alert bracelet so EMTs don’t use any silicone-containing devices in emergency situations.
Latex Vs. Silicone Allergy
A latex allergy can cause symptoms that are very similar to an allergic reaction to silicone, and latex allergies are more common, though still rare. Latex allergies affect 1%–6% of people in the United States. Latex is a type of natural rubber that is used in many products, including balloons, condoms and rubber gloves.
Latex allergies can cause both contact dermatitis and breathing problems depending on the type of exposure. Here are the allergy symptoms that can appear when your skin comes into contact with latex:
For people who have a true latex allergy, tiny particles of latex inside gloves may irritate the respiratory system, causing watery eyes, itching, swelling around the mouth and trouble breathing. Severe reactions can cause life-threatening anaphylactic shock.
How To Test for a Silicone Allergy
If you suspect a silicone allergy — perhaps because of red rashes after applying beauty products or other allergic reactions — it’s important to visit a medical professional. Generally, you should contact an allergist or dermatologist.
Do not attempt to determine allergy by applying more of the irritating substance to your skin on your own. The more you expose your body to an allergy-causing component, the worse the allergic reaction can become.
An allergist can perform a skin prick test using several possible allergens. This test checks a small patch of skin against suspected allergens, including silicone and latex. Beauty products can contain dozens of ingredients that may contribute to allergies in sensitive individuals, and identifying the right trigger is essential for avoiding repeat problems.