Its a lazy Sunday afternoon as you sip a warm drink and you grab the paper hoping to catch the sales or coupons before grocery shopping. Or maybe you want to know what the heck is going on in the neighborhood and the world at large before you embark on your morning commute.
"Ahhchoo!" you sneeze blast another human halfway across the room. Suddenly, your fingers are itching up a storm and you have no idea why.
It all began in middle school when my Global Studies teacher sent us home with a weekly assignment; to do a 400 word essay on a political cartoon that correlated with current events. Later that evening as I scoured the newspaper page by page, my fingers started to itch.
I also started to sneeze and sniffle; I rubbed one eye and then it started to itch.
Living with multiple food allergies, I thought nothing of it, but the itchy fingers worsened and I racked my memory trying to remember if I ate anything I was allergic to—but I hadn’t.
It was that moment that I realized I was having an allergic reaction to newspaper. But then I second-guessed myself, thinking maybe the paper is just making my skin dry? So I grabbed some Eucerin and put some on, but to my dismay the itchy fingers persisted.
That night, I took an Atarax and scratched my fingers until I fell asleep.
My family, who noticed me sneezing and itching, told me it was probably from the dust of the newspaper.
Living With Newspaper Allergy
They weren't that far off. Now, decades later, I treat my allergy to newspaper like I do with any other environmental allergy. I avoid it like the plague.
The newspaper allergy causes hives within an hour of consistent exposure of sitting a few feet away from someone turning pages or within an enclosed mid-sized room. I get the same hay fever symptoms that bring on mood changes and a sudden burst of energy and rapid speech, then hours later, my mood becomes aggressive and angry or I suddenly have to cry for seemingly no reason. Yes, allergies and allergic rhinitis can affect the mind drastically and are linked to depression and an increase in springtime suicide.
Common Allergens in Newspaper
Rosin allergy, also known as colophony allergy is rare but exists. It is especially prevalent in occupational settings. If you suspect this allergy, you will have to get an allergy patch test from your dermatologist. Be sure to tell your dermatologist about your symptoms and if your test comes back positive, you have your answer. If your test is negative, see an allergist and get skin prick testing done.
If there is a statement on the paper about it being 100% post recycled or eco-friendly, there is a very good chance it is printed with soy ink. The newspaper industry used soy ink since 1979 and since soy ink is considered 'green', it has been the industry standard for consumer product packaging as we move towards healthier, 'greener' lifestyles.
Soy is commonly used in a number of foods and over a hundred other ingredients and unexpected products. For those with soy allergies, knowing which products contain soy is half the battle. Since 1997, when soy ink was first introduced in Iowa's newspaper, The Gazette, the 'success' of soy ink (because of its cost and 'positive effect on the environment') made it a staple for newspaper printing. Soy ink became so popular during the past couple of decades that The National Soy Ink Information Center was closed in 2005 because they no longer needed to promote it.
Since soy oil is the primary ingredient in colored and black inks, it causes hand eczema and contact dermatitis in people with severe soy allergies.
Not only do soy allergy sufferers need to be aware of soy ink in newspaper and magazines, but it also turns out that at least 20% of flexographic ink is soy protein (the part of soy that can cause fatal allergic reactions like anaphylactic shock). Flexography is used to print packaging materials such as cereal boxes and other cardboard packaging.
If you suspect soy allergy is the cause of your newspaper allergy reactions, see a board certified allergist to test for soy allergy. If you are diagnosed, the key to managing soy allergy or any food allergy is education and avoidance.
Tree Pollen Allergy
Last but not least, you may be allergic to the actual tree pulp the newspaper is made from due to the tree pollens that naturally get into the product during processing. If you have a birch pollen allergy or have been tested by an allergist and know you are allergic to specific trees, there is a good possibility the tree pulp is the culprit. What adds to this situation is that birch pollen and soy cross reactions do occur, so even if someone doesn't actually have an IgE-mediated allergy to soy, that person can still cross react to environmentals that cross react with soy, such as birch.
Steps To Take If You Are Allergic To Newspaper
- Use an air purifier with a HEPA filter in the room where you read your paper; this will help lessen the 'dust' from turning pages so that you don't breathe in particles later on.
- Buy and use technology as an alternative to printed newspaper.
- Wear protective nitrile gloves while handling newspaper.
- Wear a disposable face mask each time you handle newspaper print.
- Avoid touching your face or scratching an itch once your gloves and mask are on; if you must scratch, do it on top of your clothing or over your mask so there is no direct contact with your contaminated gloves and skin.
- Avoid soy in your diet, since this cross reacts with birch pollen and any soy you might breathe in from newspaper ink.
- Wash your hands often throughout the day and carry lotion with you wherever you go. I bring my own soap in travel containers so that I don't use the soap in dispensers in public restrooms. I also like to carry a few pairs of nitrile gloves in my purse in case I have to pump gas; with multiple contact allergies, you can get reactions almost anywhere. In the winter, a travel size lotion is also important to avoid cracked, itchy skin.
The Good News
The good news is that allergy sensitivities can signal a very high immune system. Months after I received two five week rounds of iron infusion treatments for iron deficiency anemia, my environmental allergy testing showed many more pollens and environmental allergen culprits than I had before.
Why? My body's immunity had increased. The primary immunosuppressants used for autoimmune conditions lower the immune system to help ease symptoms. The very same thing happens when someone's immune system is low due to vitamin deficiency or iron deficiency. Since iron deficiency anemia is very common, especially for menstruating and pregnant women, I'm willing to bet that I'm not the only one whose allergy prick tests results were inaccurate.
Play it safe and see a hematologist and get a full iron panel done prior to allergy testing. Hematologists have much higher healthy iron and iron storage (ferritin) standards than other physicians. You might be glad you did.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
© 2013 Maya Marcotte