Contact Dermatitis


Contact dermatitis is a skin condition caused by an allergic reaction to certain materials that come into contact with the skin. A common cause of rashes, contact dermatitis appears on the skin after contact with the offending material or substance has taken place. It may occur immediately after contact or may take several days to appear. Typically, contact dermatitis presents as a red, itchy rash. While not serious medically, the condition may be very uncomfortable.

Triggers for Dermatitis

While an individual may develop contact dermatitis from a great variety of irritants, common culprits are:

  • Some fabrics or materials
  • Particular plants, like poison ivy
  • Soaps, detergents, cleansers, fabric softeners
  • Perfumes, hair dyes, shampoos, lotions, ointments
  • Urine in wet diapers
  • Pesticides or weed killers
  • Nickel, rubber, latex
  • Solvents or chemicals
  • Resins or glues

Diagnosis of Contact Dermatitis

Apart from inspection of the area and a medical history, the doctor may take a small skin biopsy or culture to help confirm the diagnosis. A patch test may also be administered to investigate the nature of the substance causing the irritation.

Symptoms of Contact Dermatitis

In addition to an area of itchy redness on the skin, contact dermatitis may also result in: swelling, scaling, blistering, painful sores or cracked skin. One of the significant clues to the fact that the condition is, in fact, contact dermatitis is the fact that the rash occurs only in a defined area, such as under a ring or watchband, or at the place where a particular material touches the skin. At times, when the condition is more severe, the skin may bleed or appear to have been burned by the offending substance. Symptoms may develop upon first contact or may develop only after a period of exposure.

Treatment for Contact Dermatitis

In many cases, contact dermatitis will resolve on its own, particularly if it is possible for the patient to identify and avoid the material causing the problem. Sometimes over-the-counter antipruritic (anti-itch) creams may be sufficient to cure the condition. If necessary, physicians may prescribe corticosteroids and antihistamines to alleviate ongoing symptoms. The former reduce inflammation and the latter lessen allergic reaction and diminish itching.

Complications of Contact Dermatitis

The most likely complication of contact dermatitis is a bacterial infection for which antibiotics may be prescribed. A serious lifestyle complication may occur when the contact dermatitis is caused by a material integral to the patient's work environment and a change of employment must be considered.