What Is Contact Dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis is a skin rash that forms when an irritant comes in contact with the skin or an allergen causes a reaction on the skin.

The allergic response that’s triggered can cause redness and swelling, blistering, itching and temporary skin thickness. Contact dermatitis can happen to anyone, but certain professions and pastimes bring a higher risk of developing the condition, including:

  • Health care providers
  • Mechanics
  • Construction workers and metalworkers
  • Custodians and cleaners
  • Aestheticians and hair stylists
  • Farmers and gardeners
  • Chefs

Contact dermatitis is usually not very serious, but it can get infected with vigorous scratching or long-term inflammation.

Signs and Symptoms of Contact Dermatitis

Symptoms of contact dermatitis can appear within minutes or as much as 48 hours after contact with an irritant or exposure to an allergen.

Symptoms include:

  • Red, inflamed rash
  • Blistering
  • Oozing and crusting over of the rash
  • Itching, sometimes severe
  • Tenderness or burning
  • Cracked, scaly skin
  • Temporary thickening or swelling of the skin

Symptoms of a complication include:

  • White or yellowish discharge from the rash
  • Fever
  • Rash doesn’t heal within three to four weeks
  • Nasal congestion, difficulty breathing or other signs of allergic reaction

Causes of Contact Dermatitis

The cause of contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction to an irritant or allergen that’s found in the environment. Common causes of contact dermatitis include:

  • Soaps, detergents and bleach
  • Saliva, especially pet saliva
  • Fruit juice
  • Plants, including poison ivy
  • Perfumes and fragrances
  • Latex
  • Lotion
  • Cosmetics
  • Hair dye
  • Clothing dye
  • Sunscreen
  • Certain antibiotic creams
  • Preservatives
  • Solvents, gas and diesel oil
  • Fertilizers and pesticides
  • Nickel in jewelry and on clothing
  • Airborne substances, such as pollen and aerosol sprays

Contact Dermatitis Treatments

The best way to treat contact dermatitis is to avoid the substance causing the reaction and avoid scratching the affected area.

Home treatment for contact dermatitis includes thoroughly washing the affected area as soon as possible after the exposure. Wash any clothing or other items that touched the irritant to avoid re-exposure. You can treat symptoms with cold compresses.

Our team may also recommend:

  • Creams to block further exposure and protect your irritated skin
  • Cortisone creams and/or oral medications to relieve itching
  • An antibiotic ointment if the rash becomes infected
  • Patch testing to identify allergies