Contact dermatitis is irritation from something that touches your skin, causing it to become red, sore, itchy or swollen. There are two main types:
- Irritant dermatitis is the most common type. It occurs when your skin touches a substance that directly harms it (such as when soap dries out your skin). It often looks like a burn.
- Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when you come into contact with a substance to which you are allergic or hypersensitive (such poison ivy or latex). It often looks like a patchy red rash.
Contact dermatitis: what you should know
- Common irritants include soaps, detergents and fabric softeners, among many others.
- Babies can develop irritant dermatitis if exposed to soiled diapers for extended periods. Some people call this diaper rash.
Allergic contact dermatitis can arise from any one of many possible allergens:
- Poison plants, such as poison ivy, oak or sumac
- Fragrances or other substances in perfumes, shampoos and moisturizers
- Latex gloves or condoms
- Metals, such as those in watches and other jewelry
- If you think your rash is a result of contact with a poison plant, such as poison ivy, try to avoid scratching. Scratching can cause scaring and spread the rash to other parts or your body or to other people.
Rashes caused by allergic contact dermatitis can take a day or two to appear after contact with the allergen. They may cause your skin to develop the following traits:
- Draining, oozing or “weeping”
- Thick, scaly or raw appearance
- Warmth to the touch
How can I get help for contact dermatitis?
Call your primary care doctor if any part of your skin becomes red, sore, itchy or swollen and the problem doesn’t go away.
Care for contact dermatitis at Rush
At Rush, your doctors may use one or more of the following to soothe your contact dermatitis and determine what is causing it:
- Patch testing, during which your doctor puts small amounts of suspected irritants or allergens on your skin to determine which ones are causing flares
- Cleansers and moisturizers that might calm skin and lower the risk of flares
- Medications to reduce inflammation