Key Points about Contact Dermatitis

  • Contact dermatitis is a skin rash caused by direct contact with an allergic-reaction-inducing substance.
  • Common allergens that trigger contact dermatitis include nickel, formaldehyde, antibiotic creams and poison ivy.
  • Treatment for contact dermatitis involves avoiding the substance that caused the reaction and taking over-the-counter medications to relieve symptoms.
  • Call your doctor if your rash does not improve within three weeks, if it affects your face or genitals, or if you suspect an infection.
Common related conditions
Drug Allergies Food Allergies Seasonal Allergies

Overview 

Contact dermatitis is a skin rash caused by direct contact with an allergic-reaction-inducing substance. The rash may be red and itchy but is not contagious or life-threatening.

Treatment for contact dermatitis involves avoiding the substance that caused the reaction. Over-the-counter medications can also provide relief from irritating symptoms.

Common allergens that trigger contact dermatitis include nickel, formaldehyde, antibiotic creams and poison ivy.

Contact dermatitis causes

Contact dermatitis results from an allergic reaction to a substance to with which you had direct skin contact.

Common allergens that trigger contact dermatitis include:

  • Nickel
  • Medications such as topical antibiotic creams
  • Formaldehyde
  • Chemicals that can be found in certain personal care products
  • Plants such as ivy and mango
  • Insecticides

Contact dermatitis risk factors

If you have certain jobs or hobbies, you may be at an increased risk of developing contact dermatitis. These may include:

  • Metalworkers
  • Health care and dental providers
  • Construction workers
  • Auto mechanics
  • Hairdressers and cosmetologists
  • Swimmers or scuba divers
  • House cleaners
  • Agricultural workers and gardeners
  • Cooks

Contact dermatitis symptoms

Contact dermatitis usually appears within minutes or hours of exposure to the allergen. Symptoms may include:

  • A red, itchy rash
  • Skin that is dry, cracked or scaly
  • Bumps or blisters on the skin
  • As swelling, burning, or tender sensation

Contact dermatitis complications

If you scratch the affected area, contact dermatitis can become the host of bacterial or fungal infections.

Contact dermatitis diagnosis

When diagnosing contact dermatitis, your doctor will review your signs and symptoms, and perform a physical examination.

Your doctor may also administer a patch test, which involves applying adhesive patches with small amounts of potential allergens to your skin for several days, to see which substances cause symptoms.

Contact dermatitis treatment

Home remedies can often relive symptoms of contact dermatitis. The following measures may help:

  • Applying non-prescription anti-itch cream
  • Taking a non-prescription, oral anti-itch drug
  • Applying a cool, wet compress to the area
  • Refraining from scratching the rash
  • Take a cool bath

If home remedies do not improve symptoms, your doctor may prescribe:

  • Steroid ointments or creams
  • Oral corticosteroids

Preventing future contact dermatitis involves taking steps to avoid exposure to substances that cause allergic reactions.

When to seek care

Call your doctor if:

  • Pain from the rash is interfering with your sleep or daily activities
  • The rash is severely painful, widespread, or appeared suddenly
  • The rash affects your face or genitals
  • The rash does not improve within three weeks
  • You suspect a skin infection, and have a fever and puss in blisters on the rash
  • You are experiencing digestive pain
  • You have pain and inflammation in the eyes or nasal passages

Next Steps

Talk to your doctor about tips for avoiding the allergens that cause your contact dermatitis.