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Contact Dermatitits

What is contact dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction that develops from direct contact with something that irritates the skin. The rash may develop immediately or present itself over time. Contact dermatitis and allergic reactions can impact quality of life but are rarely life-threatening.

Allergic contact dermatitis

A rash can develop from an allergy to nickel, poison ivy, fragrances, foods, new skin care products, new jewelry and jewelry worn for a long time that suddenly causes a reaction, and latex.

Plant rashes are caused by the oily coating on some plants like poison oak, poison ivy, and sumac, which causes redness and swelling that itches and then turns into blisters. Scratching can spread the rash and cause an infection.

Irritant contact dermatitis

Irritant contact dermatitis is the most common cause of contact dermatitis. It is usually caused by a reaction to a chemical that touches the skin like some detergents, soaps, shampoo, hair dye, water and skin creams. The rash usually develops immediately upon contact. Common irritant rashes include diaper rash, dry and cracked hands. Occasionally, some active ingredients in a skin product will not cause a rash until the skin is exposed to the sun.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms include:

  • Itchy skin
  • rash
  • dry, cracked skin
  • burning and stinging sensation
  • swelling
  • hives
  • blisters and oozing blisters
  • chapped skin
  • sun sensitivity
  • a rash from a medical condition like inflammatory bowel disease

Who is at risk for contact dermatitis?

Anyone can develop contact dermatitis, but certain occupations have an increased risk including:

  • health care workers
  • beauticians
  • bartenders
  • chefs
  • construction workers
  • janitors
  • mechanics and plumbers
  • people who have asthma, hay fever or eczema are at increased risk
  • people who work in extreme heat or cold, high humidity and very dry air


Dr. Kandula will examine your skin and your rash. She will ask about your health history and ask questions to help her determine the cause of your rash. When an allergy is suspected, allergy testing may be recommended.


More than 3000 substances have been identified as a cause of contact dermatitis. Thus, treatment will require trial and error. The goal is to identify the cause and treat the rash.

When a cause can be identified, the treatment will be to avoid whatever is causing your rash and oral and topical treatments may be prescribed to treat the rash. For a mild rash several things may be recommended including keeping the skin moisturized, using a cortisone cream, soothing oatmeal baths and an antihistamine.

When the rash is severe and involves significant swelling or a full body rash, oral prednisone may be prescribed. If you have an infection an antibiotic may be prescribed. Light therapy can calm your immune response. Severe skin rashes that ooze and crust need soothing, wet dressings may be recommended.

A majority of patients will experience a clearing of a rash within a few weeks. However, poison ivy, poison oak rashes can last for up to three weeks.

When the rash is caused by an allergen that can be identified and that affects the entire body it is called a systemic allergy that causes contact dermatitis. Treatment is geared to avoiding the allergen and treating the rash as noted above.

Recommended Home Treatments

Don’t scratch, clean the skin with mild soap and water, stop using products you think may be the cause, use anti-itch over-the-counter treatments like calamine lotion or cortisone cream, and take an antihistamine to reduce your allergic response.

When you are affected by contact dermatitis it is time to see a dermatologist. Schedule a consultation with Dr. Kandula in Parsippany, New Jersey. She can help you find out the cause of your rash and the treatments that can help you get back to the life you love.

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