Contact Dermatitis: What you Need to Know

(c) 2011, Guest blog by Charmaine Ann Enerio

Contact Dermatitis involves the inflammation of the skin following direct exposure to an irritating or offending substance. According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, contact dermatitis reactions may vary within a person over time and a personal history of allergies may increase your risk for the disease.

Causes of Contact Dermatitis

There are two kinds of contact dermatitis, namely irritant and allergic. Irritant contact dermatitis usually results from coming in contact with a substance that damages your skin directly. A reaction becomes more severe the longer the substance remains on the skin. Industrial cleaning products, solvents and detergents are just some of the causes of irritant, contact dermatitis.

With allergic dermatitis, you have a skin reaction to something that has touched your skin on that site. Not like most hypersensitivity reactions, the trigger is external rather than internal. The first exposure will not necessarily cause a rash but it sensitizes your skin so that you will react the next time you’re exposed. If you seem to react the first time you’ve been exposed to an agent, then you probably were already exposed before without being aware of it.

Some of the most common plant allergens that can cause contact dermatitis include poison sumac, poison oak and poison ivy. There are other substances that can cause allergic reactions such as hair dyes, metal nickel, latex rubber, fragrances in lotions, perfumes & cosmetics and even certain medications that are applied to the skin.

Contact Dermatitis Signs & Symptoms

Differentiating allergic from irritant contact dermatitis can be pretty hard. Allergic dermatitis is usually confined to the area that came in contact with the substance, whereas irritant dermatitis tends to be more widespread on skin.

  • Red rashes immediately appear for irritant contact dermatitis. Sometimes, it can take a day or two after exposure for allergic contact dermatitis.
  • Blister and raised red rash in a pattern that points to offending agent
  • Itching & burning of the skin

Medical Intervention

Treatment usually involves medications to alleviate symptoms until the rash eventually heals on its own.

  • Corticosteroids. This medication is given to fight inflammation in a localized area. Corticosteroids can be applied to skin as an ointment or cream. For severe reactions, the medication can be given in pill or injection form.
  • Antihistamines. Prescription antihistamine drugs can be given if the nonprescription strength is not adequate.

Contact Dermatitis Home Remedies

  • Avoid touching the trigger substance.
  • Washaffected area with cool water and soap. This can inactivate or remove offending substance when done immediately after exposure.
  • For blisters: Apply cold moist compress for about 30 minutes thrice a day.
  • Cool oatmeal baths and calamine lotion may relieve itching.
  • Never apply antihistamine lotions to the skin; you may have allergic contact dermatitis from the lotion itself.
  • For mild reactions, hydrocortisone cream in non-prescription strength may work.

Herbal Treatments

Many herbal remedies have been used historically in treating contact dermatitis, although a few herbs have already undergone  long term scientific research to validate their health benefits. In a study conducted by Ed Smith, herbalist and author of ‘The Therapeutic Herb Manual’, Gotu kola is among the most widely used plant for the treatment of this skin condition. Other beneficial herbs include hawthorn berries, rue, yellow dock, blueberry leaf, wild pansy, goldenseal root and blackthorn.

According to herbalist and naturopathic doctor William Mitchell Jr., Gotu kola can be helpful in curing skin wounds because of its sterols and flavonoid content at the dried aerial portions of the plant. Smith says that Gotu kola speeds up the wound healing process and enhances the vascularization and integrity of the skin. Gotu kola is also believed to enhance your central nervous system, lower body temperature and treat circulatory diseases.


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