contact dermatitis - woman scratching back of her neck

Contact Dermatitis

One day, you may notice a red, itchy rash on your skin. The skin looks more dry than usual, is swollen and tender. Perhaps you see some bumps and blisters, too. And then the rash completely disappears.

What could have been the cause of it? Did you buy a new detergent or a new personal care product? Maybe you touched a plant or bought new jewelry?

This mysterious rash could be contact dermatitis. As the name implies, skin inflammation is the result of being in contact with a certain substance. This is also known as irritant contact dermatitis. It could also be the result of an allergic reaction or allergic contact dermatitis.

In this article, we’ll review contact dermatitis and its symptoms, causes, and treatments. We’ll also look at home remedies to speed up your recovery.

contact dermatitis - personal products

Causes of Contact Dermatitis

Many substances can trigger this skin condition in those susceptible to the rash.
Irritant contact dermatitis is the most common cause of the rash. The skin will react when it comes in contact with a toxic substance. Common substances include:

  • Acids
  • Drain cleaners
  • Bleach
  • Common detergents (especially strongly scented ones)
  • Personal care products (like nail polish remover)
  • Certain perfumes
  • Plants
  • Fertilizers
  • Pesticides
  • Sawdust

Some medications can trigger this skin reaction as well. Such medications include antibiotics, non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, or blood pressure medication. A rash may appear even if you take these medications by mouth.

Allergic contact dermatitis is less common, but thousands of substances can cause the condition. The most common contact allergen is nickel sulfate found in jewelry. Other substances include:

  • Metals
  • Food preservatives
  • Poison ivy
  • Latex
  • Various fragrances
  • Sunlight
  • Medicated creams and ointments

A person can be exposed many times to an allergen and have no symptoms. Yet, suddenly, an allergic reaction develops.

contact dermatitis - woman scratching red rash on hand

Symptoms of Contact Dermatitis

The appearance of symptoms depends on the substance that triggers the condition. Sometimes they can show up within a few minutes to a few hours after exposure. The rash can last from two to four weeks.

Different people will have various sensitivity to a certain irritant. Environmental factors such as low humidity or hot weather can increase the risk of contact dermatitis.

Irritant contact dermatitis is usually more painful. Symptoms usually decrease in intensity after a day or two following exposure.

Allergic contact dermatitis is itchy and symptoms can take a few days to appear. They will become more intense days after exposure to the allergen.

In both types of the condition, there is a red rash with dry, swollen, tender, and warm skin. Avoiding an irritating substance or allergen will decrease the redness. However, blisters may also appear. Blisters can ooze, form crusts, and dry out. The skin covered with scales continues to be itchy and may become thick for a few days or weeks.

contact dermatitis - patch test

Diangosing the Condition

A doctor will base their diagnosis of contact dermatitis on a physical examination. They will also consider the medical history and a patch test on the skin.

Avoiding exposure to the substance that caused dermatitis is your number one priority. The toxic substance can be easily identified in some cases. For example, after coming in contact with poison ivy, you’ll develop a rash. Or you may notice your jewelry caused a rash where you wore it.

In other cases, doctors require a patch test to determine the irritant. The doctor will apply a small number of various substances to the skin. They’re left for a few days. If your skin reacts under the patches, the doctor will identify which irritants caused it.

contact dermatitis - woman with face cream

Home Remedies for Contact Dermatitis

For mild cases of inflammation, home remedies are enough to manage the symptoms.
One remedy includes applying a cool wet compress on the skin for 15 minutes a few times a day. You can also use compresses with Burow solution.

Calamine lotion can help in case of mild itchiness. For more severe cases, use antihistamine drugs such as Benadryl for allergic contact dermatitis. The best way to avoid scratching the skin is to keep it covered with a dressing or clothing.

Oatmeal baths can further decrease skin irritation and inflammation too.

Using moisturizer a few times a day helps avoid skin dryness and promotes skin repair. Natural oils like coconut oil or sesame oil are good options.

It’s important to avoid more exposure to the substance that caused the irritation. This will prevent further reactions and help you heal faster.

contact dermatitis - woman with handful of pills

Medical Treatment Options

Sometimes home remedies aren’t able to treat contact dermatitis. In this case, you can use steroid creams and ointments for two to four weeks to reduce symptoms.

In severe cases, oral corticosteroids and oral antihistamines may help. You may need antibiotics if the skin becomes infected with bacteria.

Overall, the prognosis is good once you’ve identified the allergen or irritant. Allergic contact dermatitis can take several weeks to resolve. Irritant contact dermatitis tends to heal faster.

However, avoid the substance as much as possible as you can experience future reactions. Be aware that new substances can also cause other episodes of the skin condition too.