Contact dermatitis is an itchy, red, and inflamed reaction on the skin due to an irritant or an allergic trigger. Contact dermatitis isn’t contagious or life-threatening, but it can cause a lot of discomfort especially when trying to determine what caused the reaction in the first place.
There are two main types of contact dermatitis:
Irritant contact dermatitis is the most common type and accounts for a little over 80% of all contact dermatitis cases. This type doesn’t involve an allergic reaction by the immune system. This happens when skin cells are damaged by exposure to irritating substances.
Many things including solvents, bleach, detergent, and over-washing your hands can trigger this type of reaction. When using products or scrubbing with water repeatedly, you are breaking down the barrier to your skin, which allows irritants to trigger the reaction on your skin.
Some people may experience photocontact dermatitis, which means that the allergen exposure to their skin doesn’t cause a reaction until direct sunlight hits their skin. The same can be said to over-exposure of heat after chemicals are exposed to the skin.
There are many professions that may make you more prone to contact dermatitis– healthcare workers, cosmetologists, and mechanics for example, handle sometimes harsh chemicals all day and have to routinely scrub their hands.
Experiencing contact dermatitis on an ongoing basis causes other symptoms besides just an itchy rash. It can negatively affect your overall quality of life. If the condition is not healed or treated well, you could experience blistered and burning skin, trouble sleeping at night, and issues with focusing on tasks.
If your profession is making it hard for your contact dermatitis to heal, and you are consistently experiencing discomfort, it’s important to work with a board-certified dermatologist on a treatment plan. Common treatment approaches may include oral or topical steroids, as well as short-term injection treatments if needed.
Symptoms of contact dermatitis can sometimes mimic other skin conditions, so it’s important to work with your dermatologist to make sure there are no additional abnormalities that go unnoticed.
Allergic contact dermatitis is a delayed allergic reaction that usually appears as a rash a day or two after the skin is exposed to the allergen. The allergen exposure triggers a response in the immune system, and an entire process in the body unfolds before the symptoms appear on your skin. This can make it especially harder to pinpoint the trigger since time has gone by (between your exposure and when the rash develops), and because there are hundreds of potential allergens to rule out.
A common example of this is poison oak– after exposure, the body has an inflammatory response to the plant oils leading to an itchy rash within a couple of days. Fragrances, nickel in products, latex, and certain types of preservatives are also common causes of allergic contact dermatitis.
Preventing future outbreaks for both irritant and allergic contact dermatitis is all about determining what the trigger(s) and then avoiding them completely. Since irritant contact dermatitis usually prompts an immediate reaction, it can usually be a simple process pinpointing what the trigger is.
Because there is a delayed reaction with allergic contact dermatitis, this can sometimes be more complex and time-consuming when it comes to figuring out what the allergen trigger is.
Your board-certified dermatologist will be able to perform an allergy patch test (or refer you to a patch test specialist), which involves testing different patches on your skin to determine what is causing your skin reaction.
Our team will be able to assess the type of contact dermatitis you are experiencing and help you pinpoint the causing trigger. Rest assured that we will be able to ensure you are getting the best treatment plan for your specific case as well as rule out any other skin conditions.
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