An allergic reaction to silicone is very rare, but it can happen. In a mild reaction, the symptoms would include a slight reddening of the skin, watery eyes, irritation, or itching. Anaphylaxis, or anaphylactic shock, is a medical emergency where the allergen triggers a histamine response in the body that results in sudden hives and swelling of the throat. Most people with a known allergy of this magnitude carry an epinephrine injection device that can buy them time until they can get to a hospital for treatment with adrenaline and supportive care.
Because of its biocompatibility, silicone has many uses, including breast implants, needle coatings, and many different household and commercial products. Allergies can develop in an individual to nearly any substance, however, causing signs and symptoms that range from mild to life-threatening. Avoidance of contact with an allergic substance and testing can help determine what type of reaction is present, and to what.
Medical grade silicone is an inert substance composed of polymers that are safe to use around living tissue. Silicone is used in catheters, baby bottle nipples, and facial implants. Use of these items is not known to trigger an allergic reaction, but there may be additives or other ingredients that can do so. Industrial silicone used in household products is not as pure or subject to testing as medical grade silicone, so there is a higher chance contaminants may be present.
Most people think of breast implants when they think of silicone, but there is little risk from these. The silicone used in breast implants is typically thick and solid, and is encapsulated in a tough shell from which it can’t escape. Liquid silicone is not approved in some countries, including the U.S., for cosmetic injections, since it may trigger an inflammatory response in the body. Used in large quantities, it sometimes migrates from the injection site, causing granulomas, or lumpy inflamed tissue, and embolisms. Pain is often the first symptom of an allergic reaction to such injections.
Silicone is used in continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) masks worn by obstructive sleep apnea patients. An allergic reaction to silicone in the masks or allergic dermatitis reported in these patients has been attributed to latex or rubber contaminants and mask-related anxiety and claustrophobia. Some masks also have coatings that may cause sensitivity in some people. Neoprene and latex may be used in certain parts of the CPAP device and may exacerbate an existing allergy.
Those who think they may have an allergy to the silicone used in their medical devices or any other products containing the substance can visit an allergist for testing. The devices themselves, such as a CPAP unit, can be fitted with barriers that keep the offending parts off the skin. Hydrocortisone creams and oral antihistamines can often help calm the irritated area. Additional substances on the device or product may also cause a previously unknown allergic reaction. In the case of liquid silicone, only removal of the affected tissue can help alleviate the inflammatory response.