Contact dermatitis is when you touch something that causes redness or rash to appear on your skin. It can be itchy, irritating, tender or blister, but isn’t contagious nor a serious condition. It is caused by contact with something (an allergen or irritant) that your body thinks is bad. Common allergens include perfume, plants, jewelry, and cosmetics. Irritants may be chemicals that irritate the skin and symptoms intensify when rubbed or exposed to heat.
Removing the offending allergen and washing the area with soap and running cool water is generally the first thing to do.
There are three types of contact dermatitis:
- Irritant contact dermatitis – immediate reaction caused by irritating chemical or detergents
- Allergic contact dermatitis – may appear days after contact, successive exposures will cause a faster reaction as the body learns to “fight” the allergen
- Contact urticaria – immediate reaction, “hives” on contact with the allergen, should seek medical attention as future contact may be a very severe allergic reaction that can be life-threatening
Tracing the cause of allergic contact dermatitis can be hard because of the delayed reaction. Often, the first contact with the allergen may not even produce a reaction. Sensitization is the process where the body determines the allergen should be attacked the next time there is exposure, so no reaction occurs the first time. With successive exposures, the body builds defenses, reacting faster, and with stronger reactions – “hey, get this thing off of me!”
Avoiding the allergen or irritant prevents contact dermatitis. Maintaining the natural barrier of your skin is important, ensure that your skin is supple and smooth. There are products to protect your skin and reduce the chance of suffering contact dermatitis. Using gloves, and protecting exposed skin are physical methods. Silicone skin creams and lotions can provide additional protection to the skin.
Your PharmaChoice pharmacist can recommend treatment specifically for your contact dermatitis, or skin issues. In some cases, a referral for further advice will be required.
For suspected contact allergy, seek immediate medical attention if you have a fever, suspect infection, it affects your mouth, airways, or you swallowed the allergen.