Wool Allergy: Is Your Winter Wear Causing You Discomfort?

Winter might be the favourite time of the year for some people while others may itch just listening to it, woollen clothes being the cause. Sensitiveness to woollen clothes among individuals is very common. It has been observed that people report runny noses, watery eyes and especially a skin irritation when they wear woollen clothes.

In the 1930s, wool was considered as an allergen by the doctors but as testing for allergies became simpler, people did not have positive results for wool. Due to the negative results, some researches proposed that wool allergy was a myth and began to look for other causes which might be a contributing factor in the symptoms. 

Researchers consider wool an unlikely allergen but recent data has revealed that the actual cause of many people’s discomfort when wearing wool is lanolin. It was also observed that wool allergy has increased over the past decade. 

Allergic or Sensitive?

The body identifies allergy as an unwanted invader and reacts accordingly. While on the other hand a sensitivity is more loosely defined. It can be difficult to figure out if you have an allergy or a sensitivity to wool. 

Sensitivity develops surface level irritation, that vanishes once the irritant is removed. Meanwhile, the response to an allergy develops quickly and gradually shows more severe symptoms. 

Symptoms of wool allergy 

People sensitive to wool may experience itchiness when wool rubs against their skin. Itchy skin and rashes are common symptoms.

Other symptoms include:

  • Irritated eyes
  • Runny nose
  • Cough

How is wool allergy diagnosed?

In case you invariably react to wool, a medical professional can verify whether or not you’re allergic. Based on your past health records, you can have an increased risk of allergy.

People who already have allergies or are suffering from asthma may be allergic to multiple things. 

Continue wearing the same woollen garment in order to test for wool allergy. Remember to put a thick under-layer between the wool and your skin. If your skin does not react that means you aren’t allergic. There is a possibility you might just have sensitive skin.

In case you suspect a wool allergy, visit your doctor or an allergist. An allergist may use various tools to understand your symptoms and make a proper diagnosis. 

Your doctor will be able to tell you how severe your allergy is and how can you treat it, in case you suspect a wool allergy.

Causes of wool allergy

Lanolin-a protective, waxy layer that covers every strand of sheep hair is believed to be the cause of wool allergy. Lanolin being a complex substance is mixed to cosmetics and ointments for its moisturizing properties. 

A person being allergic to lanolin is rare. A study conducted in 2001 of about 24,000 people with a higher risk for allergies reflected that only 1.7 % of them actually reacted to lanolin. 

wool allergy

There is a possibility that people who react to wool are actually reacting to some other material used in the garment making process. Although, same reviews were observed for chemicals and dyes in wool product. It is a possibility that wool causes a skin reaction because of its thickness.

Since the study was conducted on a group of people who were already prone to some allergies, the general public is likely to have even less of a chance of being allergic to wool. 

Other explanations

Depending on the coarseness and the size of the material, wool can be more or less irritating. If the fibre is rougher on the skin and more irritating it is likely to have larger coarse fibres. Since wool is obtained from a variety of animals, your reaction to the coarseness of the garment can vary from animal to animal.

People also react to laundry detergents and think that it is the woollen garment that they are allergic to. 

Of course, wool is a warm fibre which might make you sweat resulting in an irritation where it rubs your skin.

Complications from wool allergy

Complications arising out of allergies may include: 

  1. Anaphylaxis (generally caused by food, medications or insect sting allergy): 
  • Narrowed airways
  • Trouble breathing
  • Dropped blood pressure


3. Sinusitis

4. Ear and lung infections

When to visit a doctor?

To get personalized diagnostics and help, it is advisable to visit a doctor if you are having an allergic reaction. Allergies can gradually become more severe over time. 

It is always recommendable to visit a doctor in case you develop a rash on your face or genitals.

Treatment for wool allergy 

In case you are severely allergic to wool, consider avoiding its usage or wearing it. If you cannot do so, where a thick under layer which will resist the wool from touching your skin. It is also recommended to avoid using products such as moisturizers and cosmetics that contain lanolin.  

If in case you develop an allergy, take antihistamine medication such as Benadryl to assist your body in the recovery process.

For any allergic reaction in case, you face difficulty in breathing immediately go for medical attention. Always consult your doctor before giving any medication to babies or children.

Children and wool

Babies are more prone to skin allergies as their skin barrier is thin and more sensitive. Parents resist using wool on their children presuming it to be an allergen. However, studies reveal that superfine merino wool is safe for children and keep the babies warm in winters unless allergies run in the family.

Following points can be kept in mind while putting on woollen garments on children:

• Keep the skin clean and moisturized with a gentle, fragrance-free lotion

• Make sure the skin exposes to air as much as possible

• It is recommendable not to give babies hot bath or shower which may further irritate the skin

• Do not scratch as it may worsen the rash

The bottom line

Wool is a natural fibre which keeps us warm in winters. Some people may develop an allergic reaction to it because of its course fibres. 

Wool allergies are rare, but in case you develop one never hesitate to visit a doctor as you might need proper medical attention to treat it.

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