Dermatitis is a general term that describes an inflammation of the skin. Dermatitis can have many causes and occurs in many forms. It usually involves an itchy rash on swollen, reddened skin. Skin affected by dermatitis may blister, ooze, develop a crust or flake off.

A common condition, dermatitis is not contagious, but can make you feel uncomfortable and self conscious. However, a combination of self-care steps and medications where necessary can help you treat this skin condition.

The most common types of dermatitis are:

  • Atopic dermatitis (eczema): Usually beginning in infancy, this red, itchy rash most commonly occurs where the skin flexes — inside the elbows, behind the knees and the front of the neck. It may be accompanied by allergic conditions like asthma or hay fever.
  • Contact dermatitis: The two types of contact dermatitis are allergic and irritant. Allergic contact dermatitis results from an immune response to an allergen like poison ivy, hair dye, jewellery containing nickel, soaps and cosmetics, and latex. Irritant contact dermatitis results from coming into direct contact with a substance that is irritating to your skin, such as household cleaners and industrial chemicals. The main symptom is a red rash that may burn, sting or itch.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis: This condition causes scaly patches, red skin and stubborn dandruff. It usually affects oily areas of the body, such as the face, upper chest and back. It can be a long-term condition with periods of remission and flare-ups. In infants, this disorder is known as cradle cap. 

Signs and symptoms 

Symptoms may differ depending on whether your dermatitis is caused by an irritant or an allergy.

  • Dry, scaly, flaky skin
  • Hives
  • Oozing or dry blisters
  • Skin redness
  • Burning
  • Extreme itching
  • Sun sensitivity
  • Swelling, especially in the eyes, face, or groin areas
  • Blistering
  • Cracking skin due to extreme dryness
  • Tightness
  • Ulcerations
  • Open sores that form crusts

Prevention and treatment of contact dermatitis

In most cases, contact dermatitis does not require professional medical treatment. The most important way to prevent contact dermatitis is to identify your triggers ie allergens or irritants, and avoid them. If the substance causing the contact dermatitis is removed and you are not exposed to it again, your rash will probably disappear on its own in less than three weeks or sooner with treatment.

Tips to prevent and treat contact dermatitis: 

  • Avoid over-washing
  • Purchase products labeled hypoallergenic or unscented
  • Avoid wear latex gloves if you have a latex allergy
  • Apply unscented hand lotions or creams specifically formulated for dermatitis
  • Avoid scratching your irritated skin — this can make it worse or cause an infection
  • Clean your skin with unscented soap and lukewarm water to remove any irritants
  • Mix two tablespoons of baking soda in cool water. Soak a facecloth in the cool water, wring it out, and apply it to the skin to soothe
  • Other anti-itch treatments include calamine lotion or over-the-counter 1% hydrocortisone cream. (Your doctor can prescribe a more potent steroid cream if these creams don’t soothe your skin)
  • Taking an antihistamine can help to cut down on itching and reduce your allergic response