Contact dermatitis is a skin condition that develops after being exposed to a personal allergen.
There are two main types of contact dermatitis: allergic contact dermatitis and irritant contact dermatitis.
Irritant contact dermatitis develops when something damages your skin’s outer protective layer. Irritant contact dermatitis may appear after skin exposure to:
A contact dermatitis rash can appear anywhere on your body that comes into contact with an allergen.
Allergic contact dermatitis may develop as the result of an overly-sensitive immune system. Your immune system protects your body from viruses, bacteria, and other foreign substances. Sometimes the immune system can be hypersensitive to otherwise harmless substances, known as allergens. Common allergens that trigger contact dermatitis include:
Another type of dermatitis, known as atopic dermatitis, is often confused with contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis develops as the result of direct contact with a known allergen or irritant; atopic dermatitis develops as the result of a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
Contact dermatitis usually develops on the areas of your body directly exposed to the allergen – the rash develops where your watchband rubbed against your wrist, for example, or on the calf that brushed against the poison ivy. The rash typically develops within just minutes to hours of exposure and persists for two to four weeks.
Signs and symptoms of contact dermatitis include:
Symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis are slightly different from those of irritant contact dermatitis. Signs and symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis include:
Severe contact dermatitis can produce larger rashes and more pronounced symptoms compared with mild contact dermatitis.
Treatment for irritant contact dermatitis is generally the same as allergic contact dermatitis treatment. Both include determining the underlying cause and taking steps to minimize exposure.
Medications may help alleviate the signs and symptoms of contact dermatitis:
Contact dermatitis is a skin condition that may develop after exposure to irritants or because of an overly-sensitive immune system.
This skin condition is not contagious – you cannot catch contact dermatitis by being near someone who has it.
The rash associated with contact dermatitis can last 2 to four weeks, although treatment can help reduce the signs and symptoms of this skin condition.
Allergic contact dermatitis sometimes appears to spread over time. Areas that have the greatest amount of exposure to the allergen may break out first and areas of lesser exposure can break out later.
If you have reacted to an irritant or allergen in the past, you will continue to react every time you are exposed to it in the future.
The best way to prevent contact dermatitis is to avoid the allergens and irritants that cause it, but that is not always possible. If you have a history of contact dermatitis, you may be able to reduce your risk of developing it again. Wash your skin immediately after coming into contact with an allergen or irritant that have caused problems in the past. Choose fragrance-free moisturizers and opt for mild, fragrance and dye-free soaps and cleansers.
Contact your dermatologist or doctor if you have contact dermatitis and develop any of the following:
Dermatology and skincare professionals have special training and tools that help them treat contact dermatitis. Your dermatology team at Center for Dermatology & Laser Surgery can diagnose your skin condition, determine its underlying causes, and create a personalized treatment plan.