Recently I experienced a severe allergic reaction to black henna dye after getting a tattoo while on holiday in Morocco last year. This trauma has been a real learning curve for me; not only has it made me realise that I am allergic to henna, but it has also aided me in appreciating life.
After 2 weeks of having the ‘temporary’ tattoo, one night my arm started to itch. The next day small sore red blisters had started to come up on my hand and it looked like it was spreading to my arm. I immediately went to the doctors where they prescribed me with hydrocortisone cream (to stop the itching) and anti-histamines to stop the swelling.
Unfortunately the situation got worst; the blisters progressed into bubbles of fluid, in the exact pattern of the tattoo. My arm felt like it was on fire and the only way to ease the pain was to soak flannels in cold water and gently dab the wound. 4 days later I went back to the doctors as the blisters had continued to rise, this time I was given steroids and stronger antihistamines. Eventually it showed signs of going down and started to scab over. Resisting temptation to pick the enormous scab, after 2 weeks it finally came off naturally. I was left with the redness in the shape of the tattoo; however after 6 months of applying bio-oil the scar is hardly noticeable.
Having this reaction has taught me about the fragility of the human body and has made me more interested in how we react to different chemicals in food, cosmetics and medicines. The chemical that stimulated my inflammation was the chemical para-phenylenediamine (also known as PPD), which is only present in black henna and is a strong sensitizer, transdermal toxin and potential carcinogen. Many people asked why I did not get a patch test, however this result would have been negative as the reaction can appear up to 20 days after application. Before having the tattoo I had never come across henna before, thus people need to be made more aware of its dangers and how to identify between natural and ‘black’ henna, to avoid an allergic reaction. Indeed, if the risk is taken, serious consequences can follow; my reaction was less severe than others I have came across on the internet; from the swelling of the mouth and throat to collapsing or becoming unconscious. Furthermore, if I ever came into contact with PPD again, it is likely that I would have a reaction twice as bad as my first.
I have never been in so much pain in my life, with sleepless nights and constant itching, and I will never forget the torture I went through for a tattoo. Nevertheless this turning point has resulted in a positive outcome as I now appreciate every day of my life; even now with the stress of exams, nothing can compare to the distressing days of my henna reaction.
During my future years studying medicine I hope I have the opportunities to help others cope with such situations. My first-hand experience will hopefully aid me to empathize with patients about their situation, knowing the difficulties allergies impose on your life, especially as I suffer from eczema, asthma and hayfever. In addition, I wish to research further into the various allergies we can potentially suffer from, and maybe my interest will lead me to specialize in such an area one day.
In the future I’ll be posting more about different allergies to give you a heads up! Although, if you would like to find out more about allergies visit: https://www.allergyuk.org/about-allergy-menu/about-allergy, or if you would like more information on the dangers of henna read this article: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2872353/.
P.S. Never get black henna!