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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What is the treatment for contact dermatitis?

Acute contact dermatitis is treated topically with evaporative measures. These measures include the application of repeated cycles of cool water compresses followed by drying. Once the weeping and oozing have stopped, then one can apply potent topical steroids two times a day to the affected areas for two to three weeks. Such medications are prescribed by a physician. If the area of involvement is too extensive to make topical treatment practical, it may be necessary to treat with oral steroids for two to three weeks. It will usually take two to three weeks for the allergen to be entirely removed from the skin so that the rash resolves entirely.

What is the prognosis of contact dermatitis?

If it is possible to avoid contact with the inciting substance, then the prognosis is extremely good. If the cause of contact dermatitis is not discovered and avoided, then it is likely that it will recur upon the next exposure. In the case of allergic contact dermatitis, there is as yet no reliable technique to "desensitize" the immune system of allergic patients, so avoidance is the only alternative.

Can contact dermatitis be prevented?

Avoidance is prevention for both allergic contact dermatitis and irritant contact dermatitis. On the other hand, there are certain precautions that can be taken to prevent exposure to either irritants or potent allergens. Protective clothing can be quite helpful. There are certain so-called "barrier creams" that may be more or less useful in limiting contact to irritants and possibly allergens. In the case of poison ivy, oak, or sumac, application of barrier creams has been shown to be of use prior to exposure (Stokogard, Hollister Moisture Barrier, and Hydropel are brand names of effective creams) when available.

Medically reviewed by Norman Levine, MD; American Board of Dermatology

REFERENCE:

Dever, Tara T., Walters, Michelle, and Jacob, Sharon. "Contact Dermatitis in Military Personnel." Dermatitis 22.6 Nov./Dec. 2011: 313-319.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/15/2015

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