Spring Break Allergies

Allergic to Spring Break

Martin Leigh/Cultura/Getty Images

It’s time for Spring Break! Spring Break is a preview of summer vacation for high school and college students – a short time away from school that is often filled with sunshine, time at the beach or pool, and alcoholic beverages (at least for those at least 21 years of age). While Spring Break is a time for fun, various forms of allergies can put a damper on the good times. Allergic reactions to sun exposure, sunscreen, swimming in the ocean or lake, and allergic reactions to alcohol can turn Spring Break into a trip to the doctor’s office.

Here’s what to look out for:

Allergic to Sunshine

Many people complain of various skin symptoms with prolonged exposure to sunlight, such as itching, hives, or burning and stinging of the skin. Some people have visible rashes while others have no rash. Certain people with underlying medical conditions are more sensitive to sunlight; still others are using various medications that cause a reaction on the skin when exposed to sun.

Read more about the most common types of sun allergy, including solar urticaria, cholinergic urticaria, and polymorphic light eruption.

Sunscreen Allergies

The growing concern over skin damage and skin cancer has led most people to use sunscreen before spending a day at the beach. This increased use of sunscreens has lead to the development of allergic reactions to the chemicals found in sunscreens. Most of these allergic reactions are contact dermatitis, a poison oak-like rash that occurs on the skin within hours of sunscreen application.

This reaction can occur anywhere the substance is applied on the body, although it tends to be more common on the areas of the body with the most exposure to the sun.

Learn more about the causes and treatment of sunscreen allergies.

Allergic Rashes From Swimming

The act of swimming can also lead to allergic reactions, and the cause of this reaction depends on whether the swimming occurred in a freshwater lake or in the ocean.

Swimmer's itch occurs when people swim in water contaminated with parasites. Generally, swimmer's itch occurs in freshwater, where aquatic birds and snails are likely to live. These animals serve as carriers for the parasite, although when this parasite enters human skin, it causes an irritating allergic rash as it dies. Seabather's eruption is a different type of allergic rash that occurs after swimming in the ocean and being exposed to jellyfish larvae. These larvae get trapped between a person's skin and bathing suit, resulting in an itchy skin rash on areas covered by clothing. These symptoms usually start while the person is still swimming, but may also occur hours later. Rubbing the skin often makes the symptoms worse, since the larvae release toxin into the skin as a result of pressure or friction. Rarely, a person may also experience systemic symptoms from the toxin, such as fevers, nausea and vomiting, headache and diarrhea.

Learn more about allergic reactions that may occur from swimming.

Allergic Reactions to Alcoholic Drinks

Alcoholic beverages can cause a wide variety of allergic reactions in people. The following are the most common symptoms that can occur:

1. Hives and Swelling. Some people, especially those with chronic urticaria and angioedema, may have an increase in their symptoms with the consumption of alcohol. In these people, an allergic reaction is not to blame; rather, alcohol may simply worsen the underlying disease process. Sulfites are preservatives added to various foods in order to prevent spoilage. Sulfites are known to worsen asthma symptoms, and may result in hives and anaphylaxis in some people.

2. Anaphylaxis-Like. Some alcoholic beverages contain histamine, which is produced by yeast and bacteria during the fermentation process. Histamine is the same chemical released by mast cells during an allergic reaction, and can cause symptoms of itching, hives, sneezing and wheezing. If a particular alcoholic beverage contains a large amount of histamine, many people would be expected to have symptoms after consuming it.

3. Flushing Reactions. Aldehyde dehydrogenase is an enzyme that helps break down alcohol after it is consumed. A deficiency of this enzyme can result in flushing reactions after consuming alcohol. This may include nausea and rapid heart rate. Such reactions can be confused for an allergic reaction, but they are actually more often due to this enzyme deficiency, which is most common in people of Asian descent.

4. Nasal Allergy Symptoms. Some people experience symptoms of nasal congestion, runny nose and sneezing after the consumption of alcohol. This is likely due to the dilation of blood vessels in the nose, resulting in mucus production and nasal symptoms. This would be classified as a form of non-allergic rhinitis.


American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. The Buzz About Wine and Beer Allergy. Accessed October 20, 2007.

The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, and Food Allergy Practice Parameters. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2006; 96:S1-68.

Brant SV, Loker ES. Schistosomes in the Southwest United States and Their Potential for Causing Cercarial Dermatitis or "Swimmers Itch". J Helminthol. 2009;83:191-98.

Rossetto AL, Dellatorre G, Silveira FL. Seabather’s Eruption: A Clinical and Epidemiological Study of 38 Cases in Santa Catarina State, Brazil. Rev Inst Med Trop San Paulo. 2009;51:169-75.

Scheuer E, Warshaw E. Sunscreen Allergy: A Review of Epidemiology, Clinical Characteristics, and Responsible Allergens. Dermatitis. 2006;17(1):3-11.Moffett

DISCLAIMER: The information contained in this site is for educational purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for personal care by a licensed physician. Please see your physician for diagnosis and treatment of any concerning symptoms or medical condition.

Continue Reading