Contact Dermatitis

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Contact dermatitis refers to a type of inflammation of the skin that takes place when certain substances in contact with the skin result in an allergic reaction. This causes the skin to turn red and develop an itchy rash which is not contagious or life-threatening, but can cause a lot of discomfort.

Common triggers include soaps, fragrances, cosmetics, jewelry and plants such as poison oak or poison ivy. Some occupations also involve exposure to certain triggers that may result in contact dermatitis.

Treatment primarily involves identifying the cause of contact dermatitis. If you try your best to avoid the allergen or irritating agent, symptoms such as redness and rashes will subside within two to four weeks. Home treatment methods such as anti-itch creams and cold compresses are also effective in resolving inflammation.

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of contact dermatitis include:

  • Red rash
  • Bumps on the skin
  • Mild to severe itching
  • Dry, red patches, often cracked and looks like a burn
  • Blisters – rupture, drain fluid and crust
  • Skin rashes only on regions of contact with the irritating agent
  • Tenderness, swelling and/or pain

Contact dermatitis normally occurs in those regions of the body that are directly in contact with the offending agent, for example a person with nickel allergy may have rashes directly under a bracelet or a ring. However, some allergic reactions are not restricted to the area of direct contact such as with the use of creams. When you apply a cream to your entire face, you may sometimes show symptoms in some areas of the face only and not the whole face. If you develop a skin sensitivity to foods that enter your body later such as through preservatives, flavoring, medicines, medical or dental procedures or certain food substances, you are most likely going to experience a reaction in the same area as before, but it may be more severe or larger in the next case.

When to seek medical attention

See your health care provider if:

  • Your skin hurts
  • The discomfort causes is affecting your sleep or daily activities
  • Your skin condition causes embarrassment
  • You realize that your skin may be infected
  • Self care steps do not work
  • You feel that contact dermatitis may be related to your job


Itching and inflamed skin can be treated with the following methods:

  • Apply calamine lotion or anti-itch creams on the affected regions of the skin. You can use over-the-counter creams consisting of 1 percent hydrocortisone to relieve itching
  • Over-the-counter antihistamines. Oral antihistamines may treat itching, if it is too severe
  • Cool, damp compresses. Apply a moist, cool washcloth on affected regions of the skin to soothe the affected regions
  • Avoid scratching the affected skin or rash, whenever possible. Make sure you trim your nails and wear white cotton gloves before sleeping at night. If you cannot control yourself from itching, apply a bandage or suitable dressing on affected areas.
  • Take a cool bath. Make sure the water is cool enough for you to feel comfortable and sprinkle some colloidal oatmeal or baking soda in the bath water
  • Wear loose-fitting cotton clothing. Smooth cotton clothes will prevent discomfort and irritation

Use mild soaps devoid of perfumes or dyes. Make sure the soap is rinsed off from the body completely and apply moisturizer after bathing

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