By Dr. Kaycee Reyes
Itchy and painful red patches of skin is not exactly a comfortable situation, especially if the itch just won’t. stop. Contact dermatitis, also called contact eczema, is a common skin disorder. It is an inflammation of the skin that results in itchy, dry, and peeling patches of skin. And while untreated, these symptoms may last for quite some time that may cause discomfort that, unfortunately, may even affect an individual’s daily activities and quality of life. This week, let us talk about why contact dermatitis affects individuals, its causes, and how to treat it.
The characteristics of contact dermatitis are red patches of skin that are usually very itchy, some even with sore, swelling areas of the affected skin; at times, the skin can also look darkened and feel dry and cracked. The most common areas where contact dermatitis develops are the hands, face, arms, and legs. Contact dermatitis is not contagious, but a family history with this skin condition may make one more prone to develop it. There is no known cause, however, why some develop a reaction to a specific substance while some do not.
There are two types of contact dermatitis: irritant contact dermatitis, the most common, is when the skin gets in constant contact with harsh substances like detergents or chemicals that, when the skin is open with a cut or wound, will get into the skin. This continuous contact will cause the skin to be removed of its protective oil barrier until irritant contact dermatitis will develop over time. This type of dermatitis is most common among working professionals with continuous contact with irritating substances, such as manicurists, nurses, and hairdressers. Allergic contact dermatitis, on the other hand, takes only days to develop. This type of contact dermatitis is more specific, which only affects the skin when a certain irritant or allergen touches the skin, like perfumes, metals, jewelry, hair dyes, certain medications, or some of the strong ingredients found in cosmetics.
Diagnosis for both types of contact dermatitis differs. Irritant contact dermatitis can be confirmed by checking the individual’s background to see which harsh substances or chemicals he usually is exposed to, while allergic contact dermatitis can be confirmed through patch testing, wherein patches with different substances are placed on the skin for a few days until the physician checks the skin’s response of each. If the physician confirms that the patient has irritant or allergic contact dermatitis, he will be advised to:
- Reduce contact with the specific chemical or harsh substances, or avoid contact altogether. Usually, not having contact with the specific substance drastically improves or diminishes the symptoms. Changing jobs may even be suggested.
- Wear gloves or protective clothing especially where dermatitis is located (long-sleeved clothing, pants, or gloves) to avoid contact with the allergen.
- Use moisturizers regularly. A specially-formulated cream for dermatitis patients may be recommended as water-based lotions evaporate immediately and leave the skin with less moisture.
- Menthol cream to stop the itching, or topical steroids to hasten skin healing and reduce inflammation may also be recommended.
- Strong oral medications such as cyclosporin or azathioprine may be recommended as it gradually improves symptoms as well. These medicines also have side effects that is why intake needs to be guided a doctor specialist.
- Have shorter showers, less than 15 minutes, to avoid drying the skin. Also, it is best to use lukewarm water as extreme temperatures leave the skin dry, too. Apply moisturizer while skin is still damp.
- Avoid scented products.
- Observe the skin for any changes and report them to the doctor.
Contact dermatitis is not an easy skin condition to treat as it requires the individual to pay close attention to any changes on his skin and to follow the dermatologist’s prescription carefully. Contact dermatitis may go away on its own if the allergen is specified, but if a large part of your skin is affected, or the inflamed area is near the eyes, schedule a doctor’s appointment right away. With patience and discipline, contact dermatitis can be stopped for good.