Contact Dermatitis

  • Medical Author:
    Gary W. Cole, MD, FAAD

    Dr. Cole is board certified in dermatology. He obtained his BA degree in bacteriology, his MA degree in microbiology, and his MD at the University of California, Los Angeles. He trained in dermatology at the University of Oregon, where he completed his residency.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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Contact dermatitis facts

  • Contact dermatitis is a rash that occurs at the site of exposure to a substance capable of producing an allegic or irritant skin response.
  • Contact dermatitis can be caused by noxious, irritating substances or substances to which the patient has developed a skin allergy.
  • Patients with contact dermatitis complain of itching and burning at the site of a red, elevated, crusty, weepy, scaly rash.
  • Contact dermatitis is diagnosed by its clinical appearance associated with a compatible history from the patient. Confirmation of allergic contact dermatitis may require a skin challenge with the suspected substance. In addition, other eczematous eruptions must be considered and rejected.
  • Contact dermatitis generally requires treatment with topical steroid creams, but if extensive, may require taking steroids orally.
  • The prognosis is good if the provoking substance can be identified and avoided.
  • Prevention involves avoiding skin contact of irritating and allergenic substances.

What is contact dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis is a rash that occurs at the site of exposure to a substance that inflames the skin.

What causes contact dermatitis?

There are two forms of contact dermatitis. Irritant contact dermatitis occurs at the site of application of toxic chemical or substance which is directly noxious to skin. The second, allergic contact dermatitis, is an itchy rash that occurs only in people who have developed an allergic sensitivity to that particular chemical or substance. Such substances are not necessarily irritating or toxic although they may be. They are capable of inducing an immune response in the skin at the site where the direct contact occurs. This requires at least one previous contact in the past with that substance to allow the immune system to be primed to react to that substance when it is encountered again.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/15/2015

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