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Certain plants of the genus Gossypium have soft fibers that cling to the seeds. When harvested and processed, they make a fine textile called cotton. This fabric has clothed millions of people and has furnished blankets and pillowcases for the comfort of sleepers. However, it causes discomfort to individuals who are allergic to cotton.

Cotton Flower Receptacle

Some people are allergic to cotton plant tissues. The flowers of the cotton plant rest on a structure called a receptacle. Tissue extracted from cotton plant receptacles provokes the production of antibodies in some individuals, according to the "British Journal of Industrial Medicine." Antibodies protect against diseases, but they may also provoke allergic reactions.

Cotton Fibers

Some people are allergic to cotton fibers. These fibers grow on cotton seeds inside the cotton boll, or the fruit of the cotton plant. They sometimes produce positive responses in skin tests for allergens. They also cause the production of antibodies, according to the "British Journal of Industrial Medicine."

Cotton Factory Workers.

Some of the allergens in cotton fibers persist during the processing of cotton. For this reason, cotton factory workers may develop an allergy to cotton fibers. However, some allergic reactions in cotton factory workers are not caused by the cotton fibers themselves, but by allergens added to the fibers while the cotton is being processed. Moreover, the cotton dust to which cotton factory workers are exposed contains other components besides cotton, such as inorganic matter, bacteria, molds, and pesticide residue. Some of these may be allergenic, according to "Environmental Health Perspectives."

Cotton Textile Products

Some people experience allergic reactions when they wear cotton clothing or when they sleep on cotton pillowcases. In some cases, they have a true cotton allergy. However, they may be reacting to allergens introduced into the fabric during its manufacture, such as formaldehyde. Alternatively, some people who think that they are allergic to cotton may actually react to dyes applied to cotton textiles. Detergents used to wash cotton fabrics may also contain allergens. These detergent allergens may adhere to the cotton fabric, where they may provoke an allergic reaction in a sensitized individual. Dust mites are another possible cause of an allergic reaction wrongly attributed to cotton.

Symptoms of Allergy

A cotton allergy may express itself in dermatitis, an inflammation of the skin characterized by such phenomena as rashes. The dermatitis may be atopic, which means that it can occur on parts of the body not in direct contact with the allergen. A cotton allergy may also express itself in respiratory problems, such as asthma and rhinitis, or inflammation of the nasal mucous membranes.