Stop Scratching! Everything You Need to Know About Contact Dermatitis

Do you have a rash that won’t disappear, no matter how much you scratch it? You may be suffering from contact dermatitis, a common condition caused by exposure to an irritant or allergen. Unlike atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis isn’t connected to other allergic conditions such as asthma or hay fever and doesn’t run in the families. Contact dermatitis has two types of cases: acute and chronic. Acute cases usually resolve within a few weeks, while chronic cases may occur for an extended period of time. 

Although not commonly seen in the face, this condition can occur anywhere in the body and can affect people of all ages. We have different types and conditions of skin, which is why there are times when we can experience an allergic skin reaction or skin irritation. Many of us would result in seeking a dermatologist for medication and treatment. You must know what causes contact dermatitis, the symptoms you’ll most likely have, and effective treatment.

What are the causes of contact dermatitis?

The causes of this condition will always vary depending on the individual. But some common triggers would be the exposure to particular allergens, irritants, and chemicals. Nickel, for instance, can trigger an allergic reaction in some people who use jewelry. Some studies show that certain professions are more prone to having contact dermatitis because of frequent exposure to irritants or chemicals. Healthcare workers and hairdressers, for example, can develop this condition due to the regular use of chemical-based products, gloves, and detergents. 

A study revealed that people with a history of eczema or allergies can also develop contact dermatitis. Therefore, some individuals have a genetic predisposition to contact dermatitis. In finding out the underlying causes of contact dermatitis, the condition is divided into 2 types:

Allergic contact dermatitis

This can occur when your body has an allergic reaction to an allergen that it doesn’t like. Fragrances, jewelry metals (nickel), preservatives, and cosmetic products are examples of common allergens. For an itchy rash to develop, it can take several days after exposure.

Studies show that specific populations are more prone to having allergic contact dermatitis. Those with hay fever, asthma, or atopic dermatitis can have a higher risk of developing this cause because of their intensified immune response. Research also shows that those exposed to certain occupations with a higher amount of allergens can also have a higher risk of allergic contact dermatitis. 

Irritant contact dermatitis

If you currently have a painful rash, it tends to occur quickly because of an irritating substance. You may be exposed to acid, detergents, cleaners, and soap as examples of common irritants. Research shows that irritant contact dermatitis occurs more often than allergic contact dermatitis. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, irritant contact dermatitis also releases mediators of inflammation, mainly from epidermal cells. The factors that determine the severity of this cause include the concentration and quality of the irritant, frequency, and duration of the exposure. 

What are the symptoms of contact dermatitis?

The variety of symptoms of contact dermatitis can range from mild to severe. Symptoms will differ depending on the individual’s sensitivity to the allergen or irritant and the type of contact dermatitis that a person has. Such symptoms can significantly impact a person’s quality of life and can also be painful and uncomfortable.

Keep in mind that after exposure to the irritant, symptoms of contact dermatitis may not always surface immediately. It may take hours or days for such symptoms to manifest. The delayed onset of symptoms will be a challenge for the condition’s treatment since it can be difficult to identify the source of the irritation. In this part, we’ll discuss the symptoms that you can get from contact dermatitis:

Symptom No. 1: Scaling

Once you develop this condition, your skin may flake or peel, especially if you have chronic contact dermatitis. This forms a process in which the epidermis (the top layer of the skin) sheds dead skin cells in visible flakes. This can result in irritation and inflammation caused by contact dermatitis. 

Irritation and inflammation from this symptom can disrupt the normal turnover of skin cells and cause them to accumulate or shed more rapidly. Scaling is specifically present in areas such as the hands or face, where the skin is delicate or thin. 

Symptom No. 2: Swelling 

The affected area of your skin may become swollen. As a result, you may find difficulty using or moving the affected body part. In response to when your skin comes into contact with an allergen or irritant, your immune system will release inflammatory chemicals. This will cause your blood vessels to dilate and fluid to hoard in the surrounding tissues. This is the result of swelling, and depending on the severity of the reaction can range from mild to severe. 

The affected skin may appear puffy, red, raised, and feel tender to the touch. There are cases when the swelling can be severe enough to the point that it can cause discomfort or intervene with movement. It’s important to remember that swelling can also be a sign of anaphylaxis, a more serious allergic reaction. This condition is rare but life-threatening and can cause difficulty breathing, rapid heartbeat, and swelling in the face, lips, and throat.

Symptom No. 3: Redness

Your skin may turn red in the area where it’s already in contact with an allergen or irritant. After this occurs, your immune system can respond by releasing inflammatory chemicals that will allow blood vessels to dilate and increase blood flow in the area. This results from redness, which can be accompanied by other symptoms such as burning, pain, or itching.

Redness as a symptom of contact dermatitis may resolve on its own within a few days, but it can still be uncomfortable. You’ll need to see your doctor for treatment and evaluation if the redness spreads to other body areas or is accompanied by oozing or blistering. 

What are the treatments for contact dermatitis?

There is a wide range of treatments accessible to help your skin heal and relieve your symptoms. But before you engage in any treatment, it’s important to try to avoid the cause of your contact dermatitis after identifying it. This could mean wearing gloves when handling chemicals, changing skin care products, and preventing certain fabrics. 

The specific treatment will differ depending on the location and severity of the rash and underlying health conditions that can contribute to the reaction. Here are some treatments that may help you:

Treatment No.1: Wet dressings

Wet dressings may be recommended to promote healing and soothe the skin. You need to apply a cool, damp compress to the affected area, followed by a bandage or dry gauze layer. You usually leave the layer of bandage or dry gauze for a few hours or overnight.

Applying wet wrap therapy soothes inflammation and cools and hydrates your skin. This therapy can also be beneficial in easing redness, reducing staph bacteria in your skin, and helps you sleep better.

Treatment No. 2: Topical treatments

Closeup shot of beautiful female hands applying hand cream, isolated on white background

These treatments are applied directly to your skin and may include moisturizers, corticosteroids, and topical antihistamines. These topical products will help soothe the rash, but be sure to talk to your healthcare provider about how many times to apply such products and how many weeks.

For moisturizers, they can help improve the skin barrier function and be sure to choose hypoallergenic and fragrance-free products. Corticosteroids are available from mild over-the-counter prescriptions to more potent prescription ointments. As for topical antihistamines, they can block histamine, a chemical that contributes to inflammation and itching. 

Treatment No. 3: Oral treatments

These can control inflammation and relieve symptoms. Antibiotics are part of oral treatments, and they may be necessary at the risk of infection or are already infected. Antihistamines may help treat allergic reactions and relieve hitching. While oral corticosteroids are anti-inflammatory medications that are taken by mouth and are often reserved for contact dermatitis and its widespread cases.

Over-the-counter oral corticosteroids like Zyrtec, Benadryl, and other store-brand allergy medications may be helpful for allergic dermatitis. You can take a prescription allergy medication if you’re frequently experiencing contact dermatitis because of minor allergies to prevent future outbreaks. 


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