What is contact dermatitis?
Have you ever used a new type of skincare product or cleanser, only to have your skin become red and irritated? If so, you may have suffered from contact dermatitis. This condition occurs when chemicals that come in contact with it cause a reaction. Most contact dermatitis reactions are not severe, but they may be bothersome until the itching is gone.
What are the symptoms of contact dermatitis?
The symptoms depend on the cause and how sensitive you are to the substance.
Allergic contact dermatitis
Symptoms associated with allergic contact dermatitis include:
- Dry, scaly, flaky skin
- Sleeping blisters
- Redness of the skin
- Skin that appears dark or leathery
- Skin that burns
- Severe itching
- Sun sensitivity
- Swelling, especially in the eyes, face, or groin areas
Irritant contact dermatitis
These may cause somewhat various manifestations, for example,
- Cracked skin due to severe dehydration
- Skin that feels stiff or tight
- Open sores that form crusts
Contact dermatitis causes
If it’s caused by an allergy, then your immune system is involved. After you touch something, you mistakenly think your body is under attack. It kicks into action, which makes antibodies to fight the invader. A chain of events triggers the release of chemicals, including histamine. This is what causes allergies – in this case, a rash and itching. It’s called allergic contact dermatitis.
Usually, you won’t get a rash the first time your skin touches something you are allergic to. But that touch sensitizes your skin, and the next time you could react. If you develop an allergic rash, you may have touched the trigger before and did not know it.
Causes of allergic contact dermatitis include:
- Poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac
- Hair dyes or conditioners
- Nickel, a metal found in jewelry and belt buckles
- Leather (specifically, chemicals used in leather tanning)
- latex rubber
- Citrus fruits, especially peelers
- Fragrances in soaps, shampoos, lotions, perfumes, and cosmetics
- Some medications that you put on your skin
Some rashes look like an allergic reaction but are actually not because your immune system is not affected.
Instead, you touch something that removes the surface oils that protect your skin. The longer this item remains on your skin, the worse the reaction. It’s called irritant contact dermatitis.
It includes things that can cause irritant contact dermatitis:
- Some drain cleaners
- Urine, saliva, or other body fluids
- Certain plants, such as poinsettias, peppers
- Hair dyes
- Nail polish remover
- Paints and varnishes
- Harsh soaps or detergents
- Resins, plastics, and epoxies
If you suffer from eczema, you are more likely to develop this type of rash.
Another less common form of contact dermatitis is photodermatitis. This rash can frame when you utilize certain items, for example, sunscreen, on your skin and afterwards invest some energy in the sun. The mix of the sun and the allergen or aggravation on your skin causes a response.
Clinical examination can reveal evidence of an underlying diagnosis of irritant or allergic contact dermatitis. A precise history can reveal clues regarding the offending agent. With any type of contact dermatitis, you can avoid the substance for a while to see if the rash goes away. If avoidance is not possible or not sustainable, further diagnostic tests may be indicated. For suspected cases of allergic contact dermatitis, a series of tests called a patch test can identify the underlying cause of allergic contact dermatitis.
By testing the patch, you apply adhesive patches to your skin. The patches contain chemicals known to cause allergic reactions. Following 48 hours, your medical services supplier checks your skin for responses. You’ll see the provider again in another 48-96 hours to finally have the skin checked. There is no test for irritant contact dermatitis. Your healthcare provider may be able to determine the cause of the rash based on the types of irritants or chemicals you are exposed to regularly.
Certain jobs and hobbies put you at risk of developing contact dermatitis. Examples include:
- Dental and healthcare workers
- Metal workers
- Construction workers
- Hairdressers and beauticians
- Auto Mechanics
- Divers or swimmers due to the rubber in face masks or goggles
- Gardeners and agricultural workers
- Chefs and others who work with food
Your doctor will usually treat contact dermatitis with the following:
- Oral antihistamines to control itching. They include common antihistamines:
- Diphenhydramine (Benadryl)
- Hydroxyzine (Atarax)
- Cetirizine (Zyrtec)
- Loratadine (Claritin)
- Fexofenadine (Allegra)
Of these, the last three are less likely to cause drowsiness.
- A corticosteroid to reduce skin inflammation. In most cases, the corticosteroid can be used as a cream or ointment. If symptoms are severe, corticosteroids may be given orally or by injection.
- Moisturizer to help restore skin’s natural texture. Your doctor may suggest a non-irritating ointment or cream that contains few potential allergens. Examples include:
- Petroleum jelly
For many people, oatmeal (Aveeno) baths also help.
This can prompt disease if you scratch the influenced zone more than once, making it get wet and seepage. This creates a good place for bacteria or fungi to grow and may cause infection.
The outlook is excellent in most cases. Provided that you can identify and avoid the substance that triggered the contact dermatitis in the future.
In most cases, prevention is as simple as avoiding the substance or thing that caused the contact dermatitis in the first place. For instance, an individual who builds up a rash after coming into contact with poison ivy should attempt to keep away from the plant. However, a person may not know the cause of the reaction. If the exact cause is unknown, the person may want to record the things they come in contact with to help determine the possible cause of the reaction.
Often, a person may not consider a change in skincare products to be a source of irritation. An allergist may be able to identify the allergen or irritant from a list of substances that the person has contacted in the past 24 to 48 hours. In other cases, an allergist can use skin tests to help determine the cause of the reaction.