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5 Surprising Allergy Triggers

Watch out for these unexpected causes of allergy flare-ups.

Medically reviewed in April 2021

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You might be quick to blame your spring allergy symptoms on pollen, or your year-round allergies on other usual suspects: mold, dust or pet dander. But something else you might not expect could be the cause of your sneezing, wheezing and even skin reactions. Watch out for these five surprising allergy triggers.

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1. Spices

When you think of food allergies, shellfish or peanuts probably come to mind. But, less commonly, people are allergic to spices. Cinnamon and garlic are prime culprits—although any spice can trigger a reaction, such as sneezing and trouble breathing. What’s worse, you don’t just have to eat spices to get an allergic reaction. Spices can also be found in cosmetics and dental products.

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2. Alcohol

If you’re prone to allergy symptoms, you may want to pass on alcohol. Cocktails, beer and wine can trigger a runny nose, itchy face and sneezing fits in some people. In an 8-year study, women who drank 14 or more alcoholic beverages a week were much more likely to develop year-round nasal allergies. The theory is that alcohol exacerbates allergy symptoms and increases the production of an antibody involved in allergic responses.

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3. Sperm

You may love your husband, but there’s a chance you could be allergic to him—well, a certain part of him. About one in 40,000 women are physically allergic to the protein found in semen. The symptoms, if detected at all, are similar to those of an STD or a yeast infection: burning and itching. A sperm allergy is to blame for 5-25 percent of couples that are having trouble conceiving. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why a woman’s body develops antibodies against sperm, but you can speak to your doctor about ways to treat the situation. 

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4. Sun

Here’s another reason to stop basking in the sun. Not only can too much exposure lead to skin cancer, but for some, it can also cause an allergic reaction. People with a sun allergy usually develop red, itchy patches of bumps or hives on their skin after being exposed to sunlight. Typically this allergic reaction is caused by certain skin conditions, or develops if a person is taking a certain medication that increases sensitivity to sunlight. The best treatment: Avoid the sun as much as possible and wear sunscreen.

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5. Nickel

Surprisingly, 10 percent of Americans have an allergy to nickel, a metal commonly found in jewelry, watches, zippers, snaps, eyeglasses and even cell phones. The allergy is one of the most common causes of contact dermatitis, which can cause mild redness, a rash, bumps or even blisters on the skin. If your new bracelet or watch is giving you a rash, it may be the nickel—but that doesn’t mean you have to stop wearing it. Here’s how to prevent a nickel reaction.

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