Contact dermatitis is a skin reaction that occurs after contact with an irritant or allergen. Touching an allergen or irritant causes the body to react, usually within a few hours to a few weeks after contact. The response is typically delayed, if it is the first time the skin has come into contact with the substance.
What Causes Contact Dermatitis?
Skin contact with either an allergen or an irritant can cause contact dermatitis. In allergic contact dermatitis, the immune system responds by releasing histamine and other chemicals responsible for the reaction.
The following are common triggers for contact dermatitis:
- Plants – poison ivy, poison sumac, mango and other plants containing urushiol
- Nickel – a metal often used in jewelry, cell phones, zippers and belt buckles
- Fragrances – scented soaps, shampoos, lotions and cosmetics
- Latex – found in rubber products, band aids, and household gloves
- Cosmetics – particularly nail products
- Cement – wet cement containing Hexavalent Chromium
- Oil – automotive or other types of oil
Irritants that can cause non-allergic contact dermatitis:
- Hair dyes
Systemic contact dermatitis occurs in response to an allergen that has been eaten, inhaled, injected or inserted.
Those who work in certain professions are at a higher risk of developing contact dermatitis because of the products they work with, including:
- Barbers & Hairstylists
- Food Service Workers such as chefs and bartenders
- Janitorial Workers
- Health Care Workers
Signs & Symptoms of Contact Dermatitis
The response from contact dermatitis ranges from mild to severe depending on the length of exposure, strength of substance involved and your body’s particular response.
Typical signs & symptoms include
- Red, bumpy, itchy rash
- Dry skin
- Burning or stinging
A severe allergic reaction is known as anaphylaxis. Symptoms of anaphylaxis are breathing difficulty, swollen face and/or eyes, and confusion. This is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical attention.
Diagnosis of Contact Dermatitis
Your dermatologist will examine your skin and ask questions to pinpoint the cause of the rash. If allergic dermatitis is suspected, patch testing may be recommended.
Patch testing requires small amounts of possible allergens be applied to an area of skin. In approximately 2 days, your dermatologist examines the skin for reactions to the substances.
Treatment of Contact Dermatitis
Treatment to clear the rash and relieve symptoms includes oral antihistamines, topical corticosteroid cream or ointment and skin moisturizers. Palliative measures such as oatmeal baths may also be recommended.
Severe rashes may require prescription oral corticosteroids and antibiotics are sometimes needed if the rash is infected. Weepy, crusty rashes may be dressed with wet dressings.
If possible, your dermatologist will determine the source of your contact dermatitis so it can be avoided.