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Am I Allergic to Newspaper Print?

It’s a beautiful morning—almost like something from a movie. You wake up, press snooze on your alarm, and then meander out of your front door, where your newspaper is waiting for you. Over a nice cup of coffee, you spend a few minutes waking up and doing the daily crossword puzzle (you’re a bit old-fashioned that way). It’s only when you go to refill your coffee that you notice your hands feel a little…raw. Maybe a little itchy?

It’s not the first time this has happened, and suddenly the question crosses your mind: are you allergic to newspaper print?

Yes, it is possible to be allergic to newspaper print.

Every once in a while, we come across a question like this: can you be allergic to Christmas trees or can you be allergic to air conditioning–that kind of thing. Usually, the answer is “it depends” or “not really” or something like that. In this case, the answer is: yes. You can be allergic to newspaper print. But there are some very important caveats to go along with that.

First, let’s talk about the symptoms. Newspaper allergies can come in two basic flavors:

  • Nasal symptoms: This could include a stuffy or runny nose. Usually, this is a fast-acting symptom, occurring quickly after you open your newspaper and lasting for less than an hour.
  • Skin symptoms: The other (unpleasant) flavor is an itchy skin rash. This is a longer-duration symptom. It may not develop right away, but the rash could last for days.

Why Do These Reactions Occur?

For most people, nasal symptoms in reaction to newsprint don’t represent a true allergy. Instead, what you’re likely experiencing is an irritant reaction. The easy solution is to just let your newspaper air out a bit before you read it! If you have certain medical conditions, such as vasomotor rhinitis–characterized by chronic sneezing episodes and runny noses–your irritant reaction symptoms may be worse. Daily preventative medication can usually help you avoid the worst of those symptoms.

The skin rash can also be caused by irritation: newspapers tend to be quite dry and that can cause irritant contact dermatitis in some people. However, it’s also possible to be allergic to the newspaper ink itself.

This allergic reaction occurs because many newspaper inks contain one particular ingredient: rosin made from pine tree sap, called colophony. Whether caused by irritation or allergy, this reaction usually leads to:

  • A skin rash that starts days after contact.
  • The skin rash may be slow to heal.
  • The skin rash may also itch (though you should avoid scratching if possible).

Sometimes these symptoms can be uncomfortable, and your provider may give you a topical steroid to help you feel faster.

Colophony Allergy

When you develop a skin rash like this, the general advice is pretty simple: avoid repeated exposure. That seems easy enough–and it is if your skin rash is caused by irritation. But if you’re allergic to colophony, that could be a little bit harder. That’s because colophony is in more products than just newspaper ink. You can also find colophony in:

  • Sunscreen
  • Lipstick
  • Colored pencils
  • Foundations
  • Concealers

And more. That’s why it can be important to know whether you are having an allergic reaction to colophony or not.

If you’ve been experiencing symptoms in the vicinity of newspapers, you should schedule an appointment with your allergist.

What Should You Do if You Think You Have a Newspaper Allergy?

Colophony-caused Newsprint allergies aren’t particularly common. But if you think you’re allergic to newspaper ink, you can contact your allergist to schedule a test.

If that test comes back positive, there are a few things you can do to help control your symptoms:

  • If possible, avoid reading the newspaper. Get your news online, instead!
  • If you absolutely must read a newspaper, wear a pair of disposable gloves when you do. This will help prevent a topical reaction.
  • Be aware of other objects that could have the same tree rosin in them. This could include perfumes, cosmetics, and more.

The easiest way to avoid your allergy symptoms, however, will simply be to avoid your allergen. These days, there are plenty of electronic devices that effectively simulate the experience of reading on paper. So grab your electronic tablet, read your news, and have your coffee—without subjecting your skin to your newspaper ink allergy.

If you’ve been experiencing symptoms in the vicinity of newspapers, schedule an appointment with our board-certified allergists here!

Topics: Allergies, Allergy Myths

Mark Bubak, M.D.

About the Author: Mark Bubak, M.D.

Dr. Bubak is certified by the American Board of Allergy and Immunology to care for adults and children with asthma and allergies. He has been active in allergy research and education with special emphasis on new allergy testing and treatment methods. A South Dakota native, his medical degree is from the University of South Dakota School of Medicine, with Allergy and Internal Medicine fellowships at the Mayo Clinic.

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