Colophony Sensitivity: From Sticking Plaster Allergy to Newspaper Allergy

"Doctor, I react to sticking plasters, glues, some soaps, dental floss, chewing gum, and the list keeps growing. Why am I becoming allergic to so many things?"

The most likely cause of your problem is worsening colophony sensitivity.

What is colophony?

Colophony, also known as rosin, is the yellow, sticky sap tapped from pine & spruce tree trunks. The living trees are 'tapped' and the rosin gum is distilled, producing turpentine oil and colophony. It is the complex natural residue left after distilling off the volatile oils.

Three types of colophony (gum, wood, and tall oil) are distinguished depending on the method of extraction.

Colophony is one of the causes of Allergic Contact Dermatitis (ACD). Nickel is probably the commonest allergen causing ACD in most countries, a prevalence of about 10%. About 2% of patients tested by the North America Contact Dermatitis Group had positive Patch Test reactions to Colophony 20% in petrolatum. Because colophony is found in such a wide range of "every-day products", it is very difficult to avoid, and is one of the most troublesome causes of ACD.

Colophony is also a well-recognised cause of occupational asthma. In New Zealand there have been several reports of Occupational Asthma due to colophony-containing solders in electronic workers. There have been 4 cases confirmed by the Notifiable Occupational Disease System (NODS) since they were established in 1992. (Published by OSH in the Report on NODS – to the end of 1998)

A study done with New Zealand Pine Processing Sawmill workers & published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine in Feb 2001, concluded that " Working in pine sawmilling is associated with an increased prevalence of asthma and cough symptoms and eye and nose irritation."

Synonyms (other names) for colophony

Abietic acid / alcohol Granolite SG
Abitol Colophony Resina terebinthinate
Dertomal 18 Hercolyn D
Dercolyte ZS Gum rosin
Methyl abietate alcohol Abietyl alcohol
Dertophene 18 Rosin
Foral 105 Staybelite 10
W-W wood rosin Tall oil

Sources of Colophony

  • Adhesives, such as sticking plasters, tapes and glues
  • Cements for linoleum, rubber, shoes
  • Chewing gum
  • Cleaners for machines, leather and removing grease from clothes
  • Cosmetics eg eyeshadow, mascara, rouge, hair pomade and transparent soaps, sunscreens
  • Dental floss, Dental cements and impression pastes
  • Depilating (hair-pull wax) agent
  • Diapers, incontinence pads & feminine hygiene products
  • Disinfectants and insecticides
  • Fireworks
  • Floor coverings (adhesive) e.g. linoleum
  • Glues eg postage stamps
  • Grease (axle) and lubricants
  • Match Tip
  • Medicaments – as a preservative, adds adhesive properties to ointments and creams e.g. wart removers, nappy creams, cold sore cream
  • Newspaper
  • Ostomy appliance
  • Paints
  • Paper Products (largest single use) – adds water resistance, glossy paper, photographic paper, can labels
  • Pens – felt tip & artist pens
  • Polish for floors, furniture, shoes and cars
  • Polythene (polyethylene)
  • Printing – inks, paper & photograph
  • Resins eg epoxy resin
  • Rubber – synthetic
  • Sawdust and resins of pine and spruce
  • Sealants
  • Shoes (adhesives) and clothing
  • Soldering fluxes and soldering agents
  • Solvents
  • Stains
  • Surface coatings eg price labels, rust-proofing,
  • Tacky substances – to prevent slipping eg athletic grips, sports handles (golf, tennis)
  • Varnishes
  • Waterproofing agents eg. Cardboard
  • Waxes

Treatment of colophony sensitivity

Since avoidance is the only option, the allergic individual must be made aware of the long list of products that might contain colophony & avoid skin contact with them.

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