Contact Dermatitis Treatment

Featured Article, Other Skin Conditions, Skin Center
on January 26, 2012

Contact dermatitis is a type of skin rash. It develops when your skin contacts something that irritates or causes it to have an allergic reaction. Poison ivy and some perfumes or clothing dyes may cause contact dermatitis. Exposure to certain chemicals can be a cause as well.

What does it look like? Contact dermatitis may appear as a red rash, often with small bumps. Irritant contact dermatitis may be painful and typically appears on the hands. Allergic contact dermatitis can appear anywhere on the body, including the torso, hands, face, neck and extremities. It will be itchy and can develop with bumps, but often it has blisters that may ooze and then scab. Both types of contact dermatitis can manifest as dry, scaly patches.

Topical treatments. If your contact dermatitis is caused by an encounter with poison ivy, the first step is to remove any contaminated clothing and wash any affected skin areas with soap and water. Be careful handling any contaminated clothing and wash it as well. If a rash appears, it can be treated with over-the-counter (OTC) corticosteroid creams. OTC products such as corticosteroid creams and anti-itch lotions may suffice as treatment for many cases of contact dermatitis. When used in conjunction with colloidal oatmeal baths, you can relieve much of the skin itch and discomfort. Cool compresses applied to the affected area may help as well.

Oral treatments. An OTC antihistamine may help relieve the itching related to contact dermatitis. If your symptoms are disrupting your sleep patterns or inhibiting your ability to perform daily tasks, see your doctor. Severe cases may need prescription-strength oral or cream corticosteroids or oral antihistamines.

Preventing future allergic breakouts. The best way to reduce your likelihood of another allergic contact dermatitis rash is to avoid the allergen trigger. Some triggers — such as chemicals found in clothing fabrics or dyes, perfumes and ingredients in beauty care products — may be more difficult to isolate. According to the Mayo Clinic, in addition to a obtaining a detailed medical history from you, your doctor typically will perform a patch test, also known as, a “contact delayed hypersensitivity allergy test.” This multi-day test requires a small amount of the allergen to be applied to patches on your skin. If you are allergic, you will develop a reaction, and your allergen will be known and can then be avoided.