Contact Dermatitis is not contagious but can be very uncomfortable for patients experiencing it.
What is Contact Dermatitis?
Contact dermatitis is a skin rash that develops after contact with a substance that causes it.
Symptoms of Contact Dermatitis
Red bumps or blisters, sometimes with oozing or crusting
Itch, sometimes with burning sensation or pain
Dry, cracked and scaly skin
Causes & Triggers of Contact Dermatitis
Contact dermatitis can be caused by substances that directly irritate your skin and/or cause an allergic reaction to develop on your skin.
Some common substances that can irritate your skin, also known as irritants, are:
Soaps and detergents
Antiseptic and anti-bacterial solutions/hand rubs
Hair dye and perm chemicals
Acids and alkalis
Fertilizers and pesticides
These substances can irritate the skin of anyone if the period of contact is long enough or if there are repeated exposures.
Strong irritants like acids or alkalis can produce symptoms after a brief contact. Weaker irritants like water, soap and detergents usually cause symptoms only after prolonged or repeated exposure (eg. over-washing of hands).
Symptoms of such irritant contact dermatitis typically goes away within a few days if there is no further contact with the substance causing it.
Some common substances that may cause an allergic reaction to develop on your skin, also known as allergens, are:
Nickel, a metal commonly present in items like jewelry, buckles, spectacle frames, watch bands, coins and keys etc
Cosmetics and personal care products such as deodorants, body wash, nail polish, hair dyes
Perfumes and fragrances
Medicated creams such as antibiotic creams, corticosteroid creams
Certain plants such as poison ivy, mango, chrysanthemums, sunflowers, tulips
Dyes and resins in clothing and textiles
Formaldehydes, present in some preservatives, disinfectants and clothing
Airborne substances such as pollens, sprays used to cleanse or freshen the house
Only certain people are prone to develop allergic contact dermatitis when exposed to allergens, as opposed to irritant contact dermatitis which can affect everyone exposed to the irritant for a sufficiently long period of time.
Allergic contact dermatitis requires an initial “sensitising” event. The first contacts with an allergen that does not produce symptoms. The sensitisation process usually takes about 10 to 14 days.
Subsequent contact with the same allergen produces dermatitis, usually within 24 to 48 hours. Symptoms may last for several weeks even if there is no further contact with the allergen.
In most cases, contact dermatitis is restricted to the area that has been in contact with the irritant or allergen. In some cases, especially with allergic contact dermatitis, the skin reactions can spread further to other areas that have never been in contact with the allergen.
Both forms of contact dermatitis happen more frequently in people who have eczema.
Risk Groups & Complications
Contact dermatitis is common in certain occupations and hobbies.
Beauticians and hairdressers
Metal and electrical workers
Gardeners and agricultural workers
Health care workers
Cooks and caterers
A bacterial skin infection can develop on top of the rashes from repeated scratching.
Rashes can sometimes spread to other parts of the body that were not in contact with the allergen or irritant.
Treatment Of Contact Dermatitis
Treating the symptoms:
Apply moisturiser to affected areas throughout the day.
Soak in a cool or oatmeal bath for 15 minutes each day.
Apply wet wraps (cotton cloth dampened with cool water and wrapped around the affected areas) for 15 to 30 minutes several times per day. This method is very effective for reducing the itch and inflammation associated with contact dermatitis.
Apply an anti-itch lotion as needed. eg. calamine lotion
Avoid scratching. Keep fingernails trimmed or cover affected areas with dressing.
Apply corticosteroid creams twice a day if symptoms do not improve sufficiently with above measures.
Remember that symptoms will eventually go away when there is no further contact with the substance causing it.
If your condition is severe, your doctor may prescribe corticosteroid tablets to take for 2 to 3 weeks to help reduce inflammation, anti-histamine tablets to help with your itch or antibiotics if there is bacterial skin infection.
Identify & avoid contact
Identify the responsible irritant or allergen and avoid further contact with them.
Contact dermatitis is caused by skin contact with an irritant or allergen. Therefore, identification of the responsible irritant or allergen, followed by avoidance of contact with those substances are key to prevent this condition.
Identification of the substance that led to the dermatitis attack is sometimes straightforward if you are able to recall suspicious items that you had been in contact with shortly before the symptoms develop.
Knowing the common substances that can cause irritant or allergic contact dermatitis as listed above helps. In some cases however, it may not be easy to identify the causative substance and testing your skin for reaction to several potential allergens may be necessary to determine the most likely cause.
This is especially so if your symptoms last for a long time or recurs after successful treatment.
Skin Patch Test
The skin patch test, where small amounts of potential allergens are applied to adhesive patches, which are then placed on your skin, usually on your back.
The patches remain adhered to your skin for 2 to 3 days before you return to the clinic for a check. Depending on the results, your doctor may stop the test or extend it further for a day or two. You will need to keep your back dry throughout the test.
Once the irritant or allergen has been identified, you can avoid coming into contact with it and should not develop further symptoms.
Useful preventive measures include:
Wear protective clothing or gloves: to protect your skin from common household irritants like detergents, cleansers. Choose non-latex glove to minimise allergic reaction to latex.
Apply barrier creams or gel.
Substitute clothing, jewelry, watch bracelets or belt buckles that causes contact dermatitis.
Be careful of pets as allergens from plants can stick to their fur cause contact dermatitis.
Apply moisturisers regularly especially if you have just recovered from an episode of contact dermatitis as your skin can still remain sensitive and vulnerable to subsequent attacks.
Cleanse your skin thoroughly with clean water as soon as you can if you happen to come into contact with a known allergen or irritant.
Wash any clothes or items that may have come into contact with a known allergen or irritant.
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The journey to better skin health is an ongoing process; We are priced affordably to provide you with sustainable and effective results. Speak to our doctors to find out more. Same-day appointments are available.