Contact Dermatitis

What is it?

Contact dermatitis is a localized rash, inflammation or irritation of the skin caused by contact with a foreign substance. The immune system overreacts to the foreign substance, usually an animal or vegetable protein. The immune system is activated to produce antibodies against this allergen. This overreaction is often called a hypersensitivity reaction. The antibody, called immunoglobulin E or IgE, is stored on special cells called mast cells. When they come in contact with the allergen, the antibodies promote release of chemicals and hormones called “mediators.” It is the effects of the mediators that cause the symptoms of the allergic reaction, in this case an itchy rash.

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What are the causes of contact dermatitis?

Substances that cause contact dermatitis in many people include plants such as poison oak, certain foods, some metals, cleaning solutions, detergents, cosmetics, perfumes, industrial chemicals and latex rubber. These substances may cause either primary irritant contact dermatitis or allergic eczematous contact dermatitis.

What symptoms will I notice?

The following are the most common symptoms of contact dermatitis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Itching
  • Blistering of the skin
  • Mild redness and swelling of the skin
  • Scaling and temporary thickening of skin

The most severe reaction is at the contact site. The symptoms of contact dermatitis may resemble other skin conditions. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis. The diagnosis may require topical patch testing.

What are the treatments?

Specific treatment for contact dermatitis will be determined by our physicians based on:

  • Extent of the reaction
  • Expectations for the course of the reaction
  • Your age, overall health and medical history
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies

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