Contact Dermatitis

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Contact dermatitis is a type of skin inflammation (eczema) that occurs when particular substances touch the skin causing an irritation or an allergic reaction. These substances are not necessarily irritants or allergens that are high in chemicals but every day resources causing red, itchy rashes. Bacterial infection is the most common complication from contact dermatitis. Although contact dermatitis cannot be passed from person to person or fatal, it can cause great discomfort to an individual, thus, application of first aid is necessary to relieve of symptoms.

Types and Causes of Contact Dermatitis

There are two different types of contact dermatitis, irritant and allergic, each with different ways of causing a reaction in the body. The latter involves the body’s immune system, whereas the former does not.

  • Irritant dermatitis (more common): skin reacts to an irritant that comes into direct contact with the skin
    • Acids
    • Materials that contain alkaline such as soaps, detergents, fabric softeners, and other chemicals
    • Shampoos
    • Hair dyes
    • Cement
    • Prolonged exposure to wet diapers
    • Rubber gloves
    • Pesticides and weed killer
  • Allergic dermatitis: reaction to an exposure to a substance causing an allergic reaction
    • Rubber or latex gloves or shoes
    • Certain metals found in jewelleries, buttons, etc., such as nickels
    • Nail polish
    • Adhesives
    • Particular fabrics and clothing
    • Fragrances found in cosmetics, soaps, perfumes, etc.
    • Certain antibiotics
    • Poison ivy, oak, sumac and other plants containing urushiol

Symptoms of Contact Dermatitis

Initial exposure to any of the substances may not show any symptoms but prolonged or repeated use may cause sensitivity and lead to reaction. Other products only cause a reaction upon exposure to sunlight. Moreover, symptoms will differwith the type and cause and may vary from person to person. The following symptoms are commonly associated with contact dermatitis:

  • Itching in the exposed area
  • Irritant dermatitis
    • Dry, red, and rough skin
    • Painful
    • Burning sensation
    • Skin cuts
  • Allergic dermatitis, red streaks or patches in the exposed area
    • Moist, weeping blisters that ooze and then crust over
    • Scaly, thickened skin
    • Warm and tender

Treatment and Management for Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis can be managed at home even without medical help. Without complications, contact dermatitis fades away within 2-3 weeks. Some cases of contact dermatitis do not require treatment at all, however, if symptoms are giving discomfort, administer first aid to provide relief. To treat and manage contact dermatitis:

  • Wash the affected area with copious amounts of water to remove any leftover trace of the irritant that may still be present on the skin.
  • Applying topical moisturizers may help retain skin moisture.
  • Applying corticosteroid skin creams or ointments may help limit inflammation
  • To further reduce symptoms, place wet dressings or antipruritic lotions.
  • It is necessary to identify the irritant or allergen to avoid any further exposure.

To learn more about how to treat and manage contact dermatitis and other skin conditions, enrol in First Aid Courses.

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