Contact dermatitis is a type of skin rash. It occurs when skin comes into contact with chemicals or physical substances that cause an allergic or irritant reaction. Contact dermatitis can occur from exposure to many different compounds found both in the home and at work. There are two types of contact dermatitis:
Not everyone reacts to allergens. However, some people become allergic to something that they had previously tolerated for many years. Skin can become allergic to a substance after many exposures or after just one exposure. Common sources of allergic contact dermatitis include:
Detergents, soaps, cleaners, waxes, and chemicals are substances that can irritate the skin. They can wear down the oily, protective layer on the skin surface and lead to irritant contact dermatitis. Irritant contact dermatitis is common among people who regularly work with strong chemicals or detergents, such as restaurant, maintenance, and chemical workers. It is also seen in people who do a lot of housework due to contact with cleaning products.
Some occupations have more exposure to chemicals or substances that can result in sensitization and cause allergic contact dermatitis. Examples of these include dental workers, health care workers, florists, hairdressers, and machinists.
Contact dermatitis symptoms can range from mild redness and dryness to severe pain and peeling that can be disabling.
Allergic contact dermatitis symptoms include:
Allergic contact dermatitis can be very difficult to distinguish from other rashes.
Irritant contact dermatitis symptoms include:
Symptoms vary depending on the cause of dermatitis.
If you have a skin rash that won’t go away, visit your health care provider. If he or she suspects allergic contact dermatitis, patch testing may be performed. In this test, small samples of chemicals are placed on an area of skin on your back to see if a rash develops. There are no needles or pricking of the skin. These areas of the skin are then evaluated after 48 hours and again at 96 hours or one week.
The advantage of patch testing is that, if you are allergic to any chemical/product, the allergens can be identified, and your healthcare provider can effectively treat the rash with therapy and avoidance of the allergen(s). There are no tests that can be done for irritant contact dermatitis. Tell your healthcare provider about any irritating substances or chemicals that you regularly come into contact with (including cosmetics, lotions, and nail polish).
With either type of contact dermatitis, you can avoid substances you suspect and see if the rash improves.
The type of treatment depends on the cause of contact dermatitis. Common treatments include oral and/or topical corticosteroids, antihistamines, lotions and creams, or oatmeal baths.
For allergic contact dermatitis:
For irritant contact dermatitis:
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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition.
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