Contact Dermatitis

Some of us have an unfortunate tendency toward allergic reactions that can affect the skin. The skin condition known as allergic contact dermatitis occurs when an allergen irritates the skin, causing a very itchy rash. Although for most people these allergens will not cause allergic contact dermatitis, the rash can form for sensitive skinned people even if it is only a small amount of the allergen that they are exposed to. It takes frequent or repeated exposure to the allergen for an individual to develop this skin condition, sometimes over the course of months or years. But unfortunately, once developed, allergic contact dermatitis is likely to occur for life whenever the person is exposed to that allergen.

Causes of Contact Dermatitis

What may cause this allergic skin rash varies from person to person, but some common allergens include the following:

  • Perfumes or fragrances from lotion or other cosmetic supplies
  • Plants such as poison oak or poison ivy
  • Medications or chemicals
  • Rubber or latex
  • Metals, including nickel (often present in jewelry and common clothing items such as belt buckles)
  • Glues
  • Preservatives
The allergen might cause your skin to turn red or become swollen or blistered. In some cases, the reaction is to become bumpy like hives. For some, it appears within hours of contact. This allergic reaction will form at the location in which the allergen touched the skin, which makes it a bit easier to figure out exactly what caused it. Reactions on the ear lobes or on the wrist may indicate a nickel allergy from earrings or a watch. Development of contact dermatitis on the hands may have been caused by latex or rubber gloves or possibly contact with a chemical cleaner. Even though it is usually focused to the point of contact, on occasion the rash can spread to other parts of the body.

If you haven’t been able to identify the cause of your contact dermatitis, a dermatologist can figure it out for you by doing a patch test. This involves intentionally rubbing a potential allergen onto a focused patch of your skin to determine whether or not it produces the allergic reaction.

Treatment of Contact Dermatitis

The chief way of treating contact dermatitis is to remove the allergen from your home, environment, etc. so that you are no longer exposed to it. There are several options for treating it in addition to avoidance of the rash-causing allergen, including using moisturizers (to protect the skin), antihistamines (to reduce itchiness), topical immunimodulators or corticosteroids, or prednisone or other oral steroids for several contact dermatitis reactions. Of course, your dermatologist will listen to your concerns and prescribe a treatment method that will be the best for your situation. Healing cases of contact dermatitis generally takes several days or weeks.