What is allergic contact dermatitis?
Allergic contact dermatitis is a type of skin inflammation that is caused by an allergic reaction to a foreign substance. It occurs after direct skin contact with allergens such as nickel, fragrances, disinfectants and preservatives. In fact, the itchy dermatitis from contact with poison ivy and poison oak is an allergic reaction to the potent allergen in these plants.
What does allergic contact dermatitis look like?
Skin affected by allergic contact dermatitis is often sore, red, and itchy. There may be deep cracks or fissures that bleed and scab. The skin can be crusty and scaly, with vesicles or blisters that open and peel. These symptoms develop each time you contact the allergen and can last for several weeks. Your skin may heal only when you are on vacation or away from regular contact with the allergen.
Who gets allergic contact dermatitis?
Millions of people around the world develop allergic contact dermatitis. People that have this skin disorder often have other allergies or a family history of allergies. Because of their genetic makeup, their immune system is more likely to react to contact allergens.
If a person’s skin contacts chemicals daily they may also develop this skin disorder. For this reason, workers in health care, factories, machine shops, construction and beauty salons develop allergic contact dermatitis more frequently. Cracked, abraded and unhealthy skin may also be more vulnerable because the skin’s normal barrier has been damaged.
What are the common allergens that cause allergic contact dermatitis?
More than 3,000 allergens can cause allergic contact dermatitis. Some of the most common are nickel, fragrances, balsam of Peru, neomycin, thimerosal and cobalt. Other allergens are important for certain occupations. In health care, disinfectants, preservatives and the chemicals in rubber gloves are very common. Chromate and cobalt are allergens in construction workers. Dyes, permanent wave chemicals, fragrances and nail cosmetics are common allergens for beauty salon workers.
How is allergic contact dermatitis different from other allergies?
There are several types of allergies, including those to food, plants, animals, medications, and insect bites and stings. Many allergies involve the entire body and the whole immune system. For example, if you are allergic to bee venom and are stung, your entire body can react. The sting can hurt and itch, but your body may swell, develop hives and you may have trouble breathing.
In contrast, allergic contact dermatitis reactions are usually confined to your skin and to the response; your whole body is not involved.
Is allergic contact dermatitis different from eczema?
Yes. Eczema is a general term for skin inflammation, with a meaning similar to that of “dermatitis.” Although there are many types of eczema, this term often refers to atopic eczema (also called atopic dermatitis), which can affect children and adults. It is one of the most common skin diseases. People with atopic eczema tend to react to substances that are normally considered harmless. In contrast, people usually develop allergic contact dermatitis as adults and react to chemicals and substances that are known allergens.
Can my allergic contact dermatitis be treated?
Yes. A skin patch test can help us diagnose your allergic contact dermatitis and identify the allergen(s). Then, we will begin to treat the symptoms you have now, and help you take care of your skin. We can also help you avoid contact with the substance(s) that you are allergic to.
We may prescribe corticosteroids, antihistamines, and moisturizers for your skin, depending on the severity of your allergic reaction. We may also administer or prescribe medications to suppress your immune system. These treatments are intended to treat your symptoms and give your skin a chance to heal. They will not cure this disorder.
Our goal is to reduce your skin’s exposure to allergens, minimize symptoms, and maximize the health of your skin. To successfully manage allergic contact dermatitis, you must learn to identify potential allergens in products, find alternatives, and properly care for your skin. We can help.
For optimal skin health, we suggest you visit us regularly to monitor and treat your allergic contact dermatitis. Early diagnosis is important in treating skin problems.
Consult a licensed professional with the knowledge and skill required to achieve optimum results.