Dermatitis is an all-encompassing term that refers to a group of conditions that cause inflammation of the skin. Its subcategories include contact dermatitis. atopic dermatitis (eczema) and seborrheic dermatitis. among others.
Contact dermatitis, in particular, refers to the skin inflammation that occurs as a response to direct contact between an irritant substance and the surface of the skin.
Causes of Contact Dermatitis
People who have thin or dry skin tend to be more vulnerable to dermatitis. One of the most common forms of dermatitis reaction is due to exposure to and direct contact of the skin with a foreign substance, which manifests itself in the form of a bothersome rash.
This condition is referred to as contact dermatitis and is further divided into two categories depending upon the causative factors.
Symptoms Associated with Contact Dermatitis
- Burning or stinging sensation at the point of contact
- Incessant itching at the affected area
- Scabs or oozing blisters
- Increased sensitivity to sun exposure
- Tenderness or swelling around the affected area
- Lesions with marked borders
- Scaling of the skin
Diagnosing Contact Dermatitis
In order to arrive at a conclusive diagnosis, your dermatologist will closely examine the state of your skin in general and the rash in particular. This physical assessment is followed by an inquiry about your complete medical history as well as current health issues.
The doctor will then move on to shortlisting the probable causes of the rash, which calls for a bit of detective work. To that end, you will be asked about your line of work and what it entails, hobbies that you regularly engage in, pets at home, and the skin care products you use.
This background information will help your dermatologist identify the offending substance triggering your condition. It is important to apprise your dermatologist of every detail that might be relevant to his/her line of questioning.
To rule out an allergic response, your dermatologist may recommend patch testing a number of suspected allergens on your skin.
This way, your dermatologist may safely and effectively determine if you have indeed developed an allergic reaction and lay down the course of treatment accordingly. The need for patch testing usually arises when the rash seems to have no apparent cause or has a tendency to recur.
How Can You Treat Contact Dermatitis?
A standard case of contact dermatitis generally doesn’t warrant any medical intervention as the condition tends to resolve on its own once the irritant/allergen is no longer in contact with the skin.
To facilitate the natural healing process, identifying and eliminating the source of the irritant chemical or allergen is an essential prerequisite. It takes considerable caution on your part to avoid exposing your skin to such substances; even then, complete skin protection can be difficult.
It is, therefore, necessary to have proper measures in place to minimize the risk. In some cases, you may need to change your working practice or switch jobs if the condition is being triggered by occupational irritants.
If home-based treatments are insufficient to manage the discomfort, consult your doctor about appropriate medication.
- Antihistamine drugs, such as diphenhydramine, are often prescribed to bring down the intensity of your allergic response and provide symptomatic relief from the constant itching.
- The dermatologist may recommend steroid creams or ointments to be applied topically on the rash for added relief.
- In particularly severe cases of contact dermatitis, the doctor may even write down a prescription of oral medication, such as steroid tablets to reduce inflammation and oral antibiotics if the rash becomes infected.
Tips and Remedies for Contact Dermatitis
Because contact dermatitis is fairly common and poses no danger to our lives, home-based treatments can be considered as suitable alternatives to heal the condition naturally. Here are some ways to help the symptoms subside:
1. Avoid Allergens
- Clean your skin – If you come into contact with an allergen or irritant, rinse the affected skin with warm water and apply an unscented emollient as soon as possible. This can avert the development of the rash, at least to some extent.
- Use gloves to protect your hands – Wearing protective gloves can reduce your risk of coming in further contact with the offending irritant. However, it is essential to allow your skin to breathe by taking them off every now and then. This will also prevent hand sweating, which can end up aggravating your symptoms. Moreover, you may find it useful to wear cotton gloves underneath rubber gloves if the rubber is bothering your skin.
- Identify and exclude the products that irritate your skin – Run a background check on your cosmetics, grooming, personal hygiene, and house cleaning products to ensure that no allergen or irritant is part of its ingredients; in some cases, you may need to contact the manufacturer or scour the Internet to get this information.
- Apply emollients frequently and in large amounts – Soothing emollients are available in the form of nonmedicated creams, lotions, or ointments, which can keep your skin hydrated and can help protect it from allergens and irritants. You can also use emollient soap substitutes rather than a regular bar or liquid soaps that tend to dry out the skin.
2. Moisturize with Coconut Oil
The amazing antimicrobial and moisturizing properties of coconut oil can greatly help deal with the problem of dermatitis. It can significantly reduce redness, scaling, and dryness within a few days.
- Gently apply some warm coconut oil to the affected area to soothe and soften the inflamed skin.
- For best results, use virgin coconut oil daily before going to bed.
3. Take an Oatmeal Bath
- Mix 1 cup of fine-powdered oatmeal in lukewarm bathwater.
- Soak in this bathwater for 15 to 20 minutes daily.
- Pat yourself dry and apply a nonabrasive moisturizer.
- Repeat this regimen daily for 1 month.
4. Apply a Cold Compress
A cold compress can be used to get temporary relief from the skin itching and the inflammation that accompanies it. It works by numbing the targeted area to soothe your sores and to relieve your symptoms.
However, because its effect is rather short-lived, prolonged or frequent use of cold compresses cannot be considered as a mainstay for the management of this condition. In fact, this strategy is only effective in the first 3-4 days when applied conscientiously several times a day.
Besides, it is best to avoid exposing your sensitive skin to prolonged or direct contact with the compress, which might further aggravate your discomfort.
For this reason, it is often suggested to use a cloth barrier, such as a towel, between the skin and the cold compress and allow at least an hour-long interval between repeat applications.
- Soak a clean and soft washcloth in cold water and wring out the excess water.
- You can also add colloidal oatmeal to the water for additional relief from the itching.
- Hold the cool, damp compress against the rash for 15-30 minutes to soothe your skin.
If your itching happens to be particularly intense and localized to a small area, you can consider applying an ice pack wrapped in a thin towel to the affected skin for 20 minutes, three to four times a day.
5. Vitamin E is a Skin-Friendly Nutrient
A 2015 study published in the Journal of Research in Medical Sciences found that a low dose of vitamin E (400 IU/day) can be effective in the treatment of atopic dermatitis with no side effects.
- Apply vitamin E oil to your skin, especially at night before going to bed.
- You can also try lotions and creams containing vitamin E.
- Regular consumption of foods rich in vitamin E, such as sunflower seeds, wheat germ oil, peanut butter, and corn, can also help prevent dermatitis.
6. Honey Works Like a Natural Skin Salve
One popular ingredient that has found much use in soothing skin inflammations is honey. It is particularly potent for treating conditions such as dermatitis due to its antiseptic and antibacterial properties.
- Mix equal parts of raw honey, beeswax, and olive oil.
- Heat the mixture in a double boiler to make an ointment.
- When it cools, apply it to your skin and leave it on for several hours.
- Do this daily for several weeks to notice visible improvement in your skin condition.
When dealing with radiation-induced dermatitis, applying manuka honey twice daily has been found to be beneficial.
7. Try Chamomile to Soothe Irritated Skin
- Steep 2-3 teaspoons of chamomile flowers in 1 cup of hot water for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Let the solution cool down.
- Dip a piece of clean cloth in it, place the cloth on the affected area, and leave it on for 20 minutes.
- Do this a few times daily until you are satisfied with the results.
Alternatively, you can use chamomile cream a few times a day, or mix 5-10 drops of chamomile essential oil in your bathwater and soak in it for about 20 minutes daily until you get relief.
8. Neem Will Help Your Skin Heal Better
- Mix 1 tablespoon each of sesame oil and turmeric powder in 1 tablespoon of ground neem leaves.
- Apply this paste on the affected skin and leave it on for a few hours before washing it off.
- Do this daily for a few months.
Another option is to add a few drops of neem oil to warm bath water and soak in it for about 20 minutes daily until you get relief.
9. Turmeric is Nature’s Own Medicine
Another very effective ingredient that can be used in the natural treatment of dermatitis is turmeric because of its anti-inflammatory, antiallergic and antiseptic properties. Thus, incorporating turmeric in your diet and skincare routine can expedite the healing process.
- Heat 1 quart of water and add a ½ teaspoon of turmeric powder to it.
- Bring the solution to a boil.
- Allow it to cool and then drink it.
- You can also use this solution to wash the affected area.
- Do this daily for a few months.
Types of Contact Dermatits
Allergic Contact Dermatitis
Allergic contact dermatitis is essentially an allergic reaction that manifests itself in the form of an itchy red rash or blisters when the skin comes in direct contact with certain substances. The mechanism at play here involves the immune system.
When the skin touches an allergen, the immune system kicks in thinking that the body is under attack and starts manufacturing antibodies to ward off the threat. A number of inflammatory chemicals, including histamine, are released by the body as part of the safeguarding reaction, which eventually causes a tender itchy rash to appear in a localized manner. The rash often takes 24-48 hours to develop once the body’s defenses set in.
Allergic contact dermatitis is commonly triggered by:
- Poison ivy, poison oak, and sumac
- Cosmetic products such as lipsticks, anti-aging creams, hair dyes, nail varnish hardeners, shampoos, lotions, and perfumes
- Metals found in jewelry and belt buckles such as nickel and cobalt
- Rubber including latex found commonly in gloves
- Textiles like leather, especially due to the dyes and resins that are in them
- Glue and other adhesives
- Certain topical medications, such as topical corticosteroids
Irritant Contact Dermatitis
Irritant contact dermatitis, on the other hand, might seem like an allergy but is essentially damage to the outer layer of the skin caused by exposure or overexposure to certain toxic chemicals or environmental elements.
This type of dermatitis can result from short-term exposure to powerful irritants as well as prolonged exposure to relatively weaker irritants.
The skin damage caused by irritant contact dermatitis can be visible immediately or within 48 hours of coming in contact with a strong irritant. However, in the case of feeble irritants, the rash develops over time with frequent and sustained exposure to the offending material as it chips away at the skin barrier.
Irritant contact dermatitis is often an occupational hazard as it is triggered by substances you come in regular contact with at your workplace. Additionally, people whose jobs require them to have their hands immersed in water a lot, such as nurses, hairdressers, cooks, and cleaners, are especially susceptible to this condition.
Some of the common irritants include:
- Solvents used in dry cleaning
- Laundry detergents and softeners
- Pepper spray
- Battery acid
- Fertilizers and pesticides
- Dishwashing soaps and floor and bathroom cleaners
- Grooming products such as soaps, shampoos, dyes, and shaving creams, which are often loaded with toxic chemicals like sodium lauryl sulfate, formaldehyde, parabens, and artificial fragrances
- Airborne irritants such as sawdust or wood dust
Is Contact Dermatitis Hereditary?
People with a family history of asthma, eczema, and hay fever develop irritant contact dermatitis more frequently than others without these conditions.
How to Prevent Contact Dermatitis?
- Whenever using a new skin care product, it is prudent to do a patch test first.
- Preferably purchase and use products that are labeled “hypoallergenic.”
- Include unscented emollients in your skin care regimen to strengthen your skin barrier.
- Switch to vinyl gloves instead of latex gloves if you suspect symptoms of a latex allergy.
- Wear protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts and goggles when venturing outdoors, particularly on hiking trips, for added protection.
- Refrain from excessive exposure to water and soap, for instance, overindulgent handwashing or dishwashing, as it depletes the moisture from your skin.
- Be mindful of the products that you are coming in contact with on a regular basis as well as any new material that you may have encountered. This can be done by keeping a journal that can later help you identify potential triggers in case of a reaction.
- Personal hygiene products should be chosen after credible research and checking the ingredients, to ensure that they are free from common irritants such as sodium lauryl sulfate.
- Certain food products can also aggravate your skin due to the presence of irritants in them. Identify what’s bothering your skin, and steer clear from eating as well as handling it.
- Be cautious around pets as certain allergens from plants, such as poison ivy, can cling to pets and be transmitted to people.
- Try not to pick at any skin inflammation and keep your nails short to avoid the risk of infection.
When to See a Doctor
The rash-or blister-ridden skin can become breeding grounds for bacteria or fungi if it is rigorously tampered with or incessantly scratched. In the event of an infection, it is imperative that you seek immediate medical help. The following symptoms should tip you off:
- The rash continues to persist for several weeks without any improvement.
- The rash becomes increasingly painful such that it is disrupting your daily life.
- Your existing symptoms worsen steadily.
- Pus-like discharge ooze from the blisters.
- You start running a high fever.
- The mucosal lining of your mouth and digestive tract shows signs of damage due to the rash.
- There is inflammation in the lungs, eyes, or nasal passage on account of inhaling the allergen.
Cases involving children below the age of 2 should be referred to a doctor. Self-treatment is also not recommended for people with more than 20% of the body affected by this condition.
Also, if a person’s itching is bad enough to interfere with sleeping at night, then he or she should seek a dermatologist’s help.
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