Contact Dermatitis Explained

allergic-rashHave you ever had a skin reaction—red bumps, itching, swelling—that you can’t readily explain? Most people have.  It’s called contact dermatitis, and it can be pretty uncomfortable, lasting for days to weeks. Luckily, the condition is fairly easy to treat. And it’s neither contagious, nor life-threatening.

What Is Contact Dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis is a condition in which the skin becomes irritated and inflamed after coming into contact with certain substances.  There are two main categories: irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis. Irritant contact dermatitis is the more common variation. It occurs when a substance damages the outer layer of the skin. Allergic contact dermatitis is triggered when you touch a substance that you’re allergic to, which leads to an immune reaction in the skin.

Either way, typical symptoms include a red rash or bumps, itching, blisters, dry patches, and pain or tenderness in the area of exposure. The reaction can be restricted to a small area or it can be extensive, depending on the nature of the exposure, meaning how strong the irritant is and how long you were exposed to it for.

Although the cause of contact dermatitis can vary widely, there are a few substances that are commonly implicated:

  • Nickel (often found in jewelry, clothing fasteners, and coins)
  • Poison ivy, oak, and sumac
  • Cashew Nuts
  • Citrus fruit
  • Topical medicines that are applied to the skin, such as antibiotics, antihistamines, and antiseptics
  • Fragrances and flavorings
  • Strong soaps and detergents
  • Skin cleansers, cosmetics, hair dyes and straighteners, and deodorants
  • Cleaning products and other chemicals
  • Clothing and shoes
  • Latex

How Is Contact Dermatitis Treated?

The first step in dealing with contact dermatitis is determining the source of the skin irritation and then avoiding any additional exposure to it.  While you have symptoms, you can apply a nonprescription anti-itch cream with 1% hydrocortisone, calamine lotion, or wet compresses to the area for relief or take an over-the-counter oral antihistamine such as Benadryl (diphenhydramine). You can also take a cool bath with baking soda or colloidal oatmeal, as that can help heal the bumps and soothe the dry patches. It’s important not to scratch the area, as difficult as that may be to do, because that will make the problem worse, and can cause an infection.

When to See a Dermatologist

The cause of contact dermatitis can be unclear, in which case you should see a dermatologist for assessment and testing. If I suspect allergic contact dermatitis, patch testing can be to narrow down to a specific allergen of interest. This entails placing adhesive patches containing traces of possible allergens on your skin and leaving them on for 48 hours. If a reaction occurs, the allergen(s) of interest has been found and can then be avoided.

Think You Have Contact Dermatitis? Contact Us Today!

If you are experiencing skin irritation, contact us today to schedule a consultation and discuss treatment options. At Advanced Dermatology, PC, our board-certified dermatologists are experts at diagnosing and treating contact dermatitis and other conditions of the skin, hair and nails. Our conveniently located offices welcome patients from Queens (Bayside, Flushing), Long Island – Nassau/Suffolk (Roslyn Heights, West Islip, Commack, East Setauket), New York City (Upper West Side, Upper East Side), Brooklyn (Park Slope) Westchester County (Ossining, Briarcliff Manor), Bergen County, NJ, Union County, NJ, and all surrounding areas.

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