Contact dermatitis is known by its classic symptom: a very itchy, red rash. You can develop this skin reaction from any number of substances that come into direct contact with your skin. Dr. Charles Song and Dr. Andrew Wong can help with testing to identify the offending irritant or allergen, then formulate a treatment plan to prevent future rashes. If you need evaluation and treatment for contact dermatitis, call the Song Institute of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, in Manhattan Beach, California, or schedule an appointment online.
Contact dermatitis is characterized by skin inflammation that results from direct contact with a substance to the skin surface. While atopic dermatitis is related to allergies, contact dermatitis may not be caused by an allergy. In fact, the most common type of contact dermatitis is (nonallergic) irritant contact dermatitis. On the other hand, allergic contact dermatitis is caused by an abnormal immune (or allergic) response.
The best-known causes of contact dermatitis are poison ivy, oak, and sumac, but you can develop the rash in response to any substance that contacts your skin -- from the wool in clothes to cleaning detergents, ingredients in skin care products, and fertilizers. Some of the most common causes include cosmetics, lanolin, nickel, hair dye, and other dyes. Airborne substances such as sawdust can also cause contact dermatitis.
The primary symptom, a rash, develops quickly or within a few hours, appearing on the parts of your body that came into direct contact with the substance. The rash may last two to four weeks.
The classic rash caused by contact dermatitis is red with raised bumps. It’s itchy, sometimes severely itchy, and it may blister and ooze.
In addition to a skin rash, you may also develop symptoms such as:
Your doctor at the Song Institute of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology may diagnose contact dermatitis by examining your skin and talking with you about possible triggers, but a patch test is generally needed to determine exactly which substance caused your contact dermatitis.
A patch test is performed by placing small amounts of diluted testing allergens on your skin, underneath a patch of paper adhesive. The patches are typically placed on your back and removed 48 hours later. Your skin is examined at that 48-hour visit, and sometime again between 72 and 96 hours.
When needed, your own personal products, such as the shampoo or soap you use at home, can be applied to your skin with similar patches.
The first step is to avoid the substances that trigger your contact dermatitis. Dr. Song and Dr. Wong are active members of the American Contact Dermatitis Society and will be able to generate a “safe product list” based on your patch testing results.
It’s also important to avoid scratching, because that can worsen your condition and prevent your skin from healing. Your doctor may recommend various other-the-counter products or prescribe topical steroid creams to reduce inflammation and relieve itching. Occasionally, topical and oral antibiotics may be necessary to fight an infection, if one develops.
If you need expert evaluation and treatment for contact dermatitis, schedule an appointment by calling the Song Institute of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology or using the convenient online booking feature.