Contact dermatitis is a red, itchy skin rash that occurs due to an immune system response after exposure to an allergen or irritant. If the rash is moderate to severe, the skin may scale, ooze, crust, or blister. With allergic reactions, the rash usually appears within the first 24 hours after contact with the allergen. It is sometimes possible to identify the allergen by where the rash starts on your skin. For example, a rash that develops where you wear metal jewelry could point to a nickel or gold allergy. Other common allergens include urushiol (from poison ivy or poison oak), fragrances (natural or synthetic), and an additive in many personal care products called cocamidopropyl betaine or CABP. Exposure to chemical irritants may take many weeks or months to cause symptoms. Bleach and certain acidic substances can cause contact dermatitis rash. Formaldehyde is a particularly dangerous irritant that may be present at home or in the workplace.
- For allergic reactions, oral antihistamines and calamine creams are the most common treatments.
- Topical, oral or injected steroids may be recommended for reactions to chemical irritants and for severe allergic reactions.
- Some people find that taking an oatmeal bath helps soothe itching and irritation.
- Domeboro (aluminum acetate) soaks and compresses can also be used several times per day for 15-30 minutes at a time to relieve itching.
Avoiding the offending substance is the best long term solution for preventing recurrence of contact dermatitis. Once sensitivity to a skin allergen or irritant develops, it usually does not go away. Allergy testing and a thorough review of all the products you come into contact with at home and work may help narrow down what is causing your symptoms.
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