Medically reviewed by The Dermatologists and written by Dr. Alexander Börve
More than 3 million US cases per year
- Often self-diagnosable
- Symptoms: Rash or irritation of the skin
- Color: Typically red
- Location: Anywhere on the skin
- Treatment: Antihistamine, cortisone, prescription medication
Contact dermatitis is a rash or irritation of the skin caused by contact with a foreign substance. The inflammation only occurs on the superficial regions of the skin. Common causes are poison oak, latex, perfumes, detergents, and certain foods. UV light can also be a cause.
Symptoms of Contact Dermatitis
Contact dermatitis causes large, itchy rashes on the skin exposed to the irritant. The rash is red and appears within a day after contact. It can also form cracks, blisters and hives. The rash can last for weeks. The symptoms often get worse when you scratch the affected area.
There are two types of contact dermatitis, allergic and non-allergic. Non-allergic contact dermatitis usually appears on the hands, which is also known as hand eczema.
Non-allergic contact dermatitis
Non-allergic contact dermatitis occurs when the skin’s natural protection breaks down. It is common in professions that deals a lot with soap, water and solvents, but the sensitivity varies from person to person. The risk of non-allergic contact dermatitis is increased if you had eczema as a child. It can also happen if you use cleanser frequently.
Allergic contact dermatitis
Allergic contact dermatitis is located mostly on the hands, armpits and face, particularly around the eyes. It occurs at the area in contact with something you are allergic to. Common substances that can induce allergic eczema include nickel, chromium and some preservatives in skin care products. Latex can also trigger the allergy due to the substances used in the preparation of the latex. The risk of developing nickel allergy increases if you use jewelry that contains nickel. The risk of allergy is particularly high if pierce your ears on your own or have your ears pierced while jewelry containing nickel. If you become allergic to nickel, the sensitivity will last for the rest of your life.
What can I do?
You should wash the affected areas less frequently, especially if you experience pain. You can clean your hands with hand alcohol instead of soap and water. Apply moisturizing cream frequently and abundantly to help the skin build up natural protection against contact dermatitis. You should also avoid contact with the substances that trigger the allergy.
Should I seek medical care?
If you suspect that you have contact dermatitis, you should contact your healthcare provider. You also need a physician if the affected areas have formed exuding wounds or the contact dermatitis has become infected. You should seek medical care again if you have used prescription cortisone cream or cortisone ointment for a week without any improvement.
Treatment for Contact Dermatitis
The rash will usually fade after a few days if you stop any contact with the irritant. Cold compresses can reduce blistering, and antihistamines relieve itching. If the rash spreads or does not improve after a few days, consult a physician. You may be prescribed corticosteroids or antihistamines which can reduce inflammation. Sometimes you need a stronger cortisone cream.
American Academy of Dermatology. Contact Dermatitis. Available at https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/eczema/contact-dermatitis.
American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Contact Dermatitis. Available at http://acaai.org/allergies/types/skin-allergies/contact-dermatitis
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