(Q) Dear DocV,
I got OW certified only a few months ago. When I did, the water was warm enough to wear a swimsuit and a rash guard.
This past weekend I took a buoyancy class and spent a couple hours of each day in a pool wearing a wetsuit. The wetsuit is new and is mine. It was the first time I used it.
After each day of diving I immediately showered at the pool. However, on Sunday evening and more intensely on Monday I noticed an itchy sensation across my arms, legs and chest. Pretty much anywhere the suit was in contact.
It is now 5 days post diving and the generalized itching sensation is gone. When the “rash” occurred I had some raised bumps but no other symptoms.
Over the years and with many injuries (I like challenging sports), I have found that I have sensitivity to medical tapes and other things like that. I develop a rash localized to the area that was taped.
So, the questions are… Is it possible to have an allergic reaction to the neoprene? And if yes, what actions can I take to prevent the reaction?
Thanks for your help! I really do not want to give up diving because of something like this…
(A) Hi TF,
Allergic reactions to neoprene proper are relatively unusual; hypersensitivity to curing/accelerator agents used in neoprene processing and adhesives used in suit assembly is more common.
You’ll want to make sure that your reaction is not simply to some other agent, like chlorine. I find this unlikely, but provide it just as an example of irritating substances to which you might have come into contact. However, your report of a history hypersensitivity to medical/athletic tapes, and the described distribution of this rash, really does rather suggest that the problem is related to contact with natural or synthetic rubber-like compounds.
As your wetsuit is new, you may wish to hand wash it with baby shampoo or a delicate laundry detergent and then allow it to air well until the next wearing. Also be sure to rinse yourself well after each dive and shower with a gentle soap after the last dive of the day.
If the rash occurs again, you can try wearing a rash guard, although there is no guarantee this will work.
If you continue to have this problem, testing for neoprene allergy is probably next. This requires a specific patch test, so be sure to tell the allergist/dermatologist about your contact with neoprene and concerns when making the appointment. Since an allergy patch test for neoprene proper and its chemical accelerators typically is not included in the routine testing procedure, the doctor may have to arrange for a more thorough battery and this may require a small piece of your suit.
If it turns out you are allergic, you can look into a wetsuit made without neoprene such as a Thermocline Neoprene Free wetsuit by Fourth Element.
As for treatment, antihistamines, both oral and topical, often are useful in easing the discomfort of a number of contact skin rashes, but you really do need to find an alternative if this rash is going appear every time you put on neoprene. This is not to mention that such hypersensitivity reactions can become more severe with repeated exposures to the offending agent.
Best of luck.
This is educational only and does not constitute or imply a doctor-patient relationship. It is not medical advice to you or any other individual and should not be construed as such.