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Alternative namesDermatitis - contact; Allergic dermatitis; Dermatitis - allergic; Poison ivy; Poison oak; Poison sumac
DefinitionContact dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin caused by direct contact with an irritating substance.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Contact dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin caused by direct contact with an irritating or allergy-causing substance ( irritant or allergen ) vary in the same individual over time. A history of any type of allergies increases the risk for this condition.
Irritant dermatitis, the most common type of contact dermatitis, involves inflammation resulting from contact with acids, alkaline materials such as soaps and detergents , solvents, or other chemicals. The reaction usually resembles a burn .
The second most common type of contact dermatitis is caused by exposure to a material to which the person has become hypersensitive or allergic. The skin inflammation varies from mild irritation and redness to open sores, depending on the type of , the body part affected, and the sensitivity of the individual.
Overtreatment dermatitis is a form of contact dermatitis that occurs when treatment for another skin disorder causes irritation.
Common allergens associated with contact dermatitis include:
Contact dermatitis may involve a reaction to a substance that the person is exposed to or uses repeatedly. Although there may be no initial reaction, repeated use (for example, nail polish remover, preservatives in contact lens solutions, or repeated contact with metals in earring posts and the metal backs of watches) can cause eventual sensitization and reaction to the product.
Signs and tests
The diagnosis is primarily based on the skin appearance and a history of exposure to an irritant or an allergen.
Patch testing is used for patients who have chronic, recurring contact dermatitis. It requires three office visits and must be done by a clinician with detailed experience in the procedures and interpretation of results. Patients should bring suspected materials with them, especially if they have already tested those materials on a small area of their skin and noticed a reaction.
Initial treatment includes thorough washing with lots of water to remove any trace of the irritant that may remain on the skin. Further exposure to known irritants or allergens should be avoided.
In some cases, the best treatment is to do nothing to the area.
Expectations (prognosis)Contact dermatitis usually clears up without complications within 2 or 3 weeks but may recur if the causal agent cannot be identified or avoided. Change of occupation or occupational habits may be necessary if the disorder is caused by occupational exposure.
Secondary bacterial skin infections my occur.
Calling your health care providerCall your health care provider if symptoms indicate contact dermatitis and it is severe or there is no improvement after treatment.
PreventionAvoid contact with known allergens. Use protective gloves or other barriers if contact with substances is likely or unavoidable. Wash skin surfaces thoroughly after contact with substances. Avoid overtreating skin disorders.
Update Date: 7/11/2002Michael Lehrer, M.D., Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT