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Skin Allergies / Contact Dermatitis

Skin Allergies or Contact Dermatitis cause an inflammation of the skin caused by direct contact with an irritating substance. There are limitless everyday items in our lives that can cause an allergic response on the skin. Some allergic reactions are brief, self-limiting and nonthreatening; others can carry complications that may need immediate medical attention.

Skin allergy or Skin Rash are generic terms that are commonly used to referred to Allergic Dermatitis or Contact Dermatitis. Common references also include Skin Rash; Itchy skin; Poison ivy; Poison oak; Poison sumac. A skin rash may be caused by factors that are external or internal. To determine the underlying cause of the rash on your skin, you’ll need to see a dermatologist.

Other “rashes” my include hives, shingles, eczema, contact dermatitis, ringworm, psoriasis and impetigo.

Any rash accompanied by or preceded by a fever should always be attended to by a physician to rule out a potentially threatening disease.

What are the most common causes of Skin Allergies and Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin caused by direct contact with an irritating or allergy-causing substance (irritant or allergen). Reactions may vary in the same person over time. A history of any type of allergies increases the risk for this condition.

Irritant dermatitis, the most common type of contact dermatitis, involves inflammation resulting from contact with acids, alkaline materials such as soaps and detergents, solvents, or other chemicals. The reaction usually resembles a burn. Photos of Irritant Dermatitis

Allergic contact dermatitis, the second most common type of contact dermatitis, is caused by exposure to a substance or material to which you have become extra sensitive or allergic. The allergic reaction is often delayed, with the rash appearing 24-48 hours after exposure. The skin inflammation varies from mild irritation and redness to open sores, depending on the type of irritant, the body part affected, and your sensitivity. (See Contact Dermatitis Photo links below)

Overtreatment dermatitis is a form of contact dermatitis that occurs when treatment for another skin disorder causes irritation.

Common contact allergy-causing substances include:

  • Poison ivy, poison oak, poison sumac
  • Other plants
  • Nickel or other metals ( These are often found in fashion earrings, snaps, metal buttons and zippers)
  • Medications

– Antibiotics, especially those applied to the surface of the skin (topical)
– Topical anesthetics
– Other medications

  • Rubber
  • Cosmetics
  • Fabrics and clothing
  • Detergents
  • Solvents
  • Adhesives
  • Fragrances, perfumes
  • Other chemicals and substances

Contact dermatitis may involve a reaction to a substance that you are exposed to, or use repeatedly. Although there may be no initial reaction, regular use (for example, nail polish remover, preservatives in contact lens solutions, or repeated contact with metals in earring posts and the metal backs of watches) can eventually cause sensitivity and reaction to the product.

Some products cause a reaction only when they contact the skin and are exposed to sunlight (photosensitivity). These include shaving lotions, sunscreens, sulfa ointments, some perfumes, coal tar products, and oil from the skin of a lime. A few airborne allergens, such as ragweed or insecticide spray, can cause contact dermatitis.

Skin Allergy / Contact Dermatitis Images


  • Itching of the skin in exposed areas
  • Skin redness or inflammation in the exposed area
  • Tenderness of the skin in the exposed area
  • Localized swelling of the skin
  • Warmth of the exposed area (may occur)
  • Skin lesion or rash at the site of exposure

o Lesions of any type: redness, rash, papules (pimple-like), blisters
o May involve oozing, draining, or crusting
o May become scaly, raw, or thickened

How is the cause of my skin rash determined?

The diagnosis is primarily based on the skin appearance and a history of exposure to an irritant or an allergen. According to the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology, “Patch testing is the gold standard for contact allergen identification.” Allergy testing with skin patches may isolate the suspected allergen that is causing the reaction.

Skin Patch testing is used for patients who have chronic, recurring contact dermatitis. It requires three office visits and must be done by a clinician with detailed experience in the procedures and interpretation of results. A dermatologist is a skin specialist and the best qualified to diagnose and treat contact allergies.

On the first visit, small patches of potential allergens are applied to the skin. These patches are removed 48 hours later to see if a reaction has occurred. A third visit approximately 2 days later is to evaluate for any delayed reaction. You should bring suspected materials with you, especially if you have already tested those materials on a small area of your skin and noticed a reaction.

Other tests may be used to rule out other possible causes, including skin lesion biopsy or culture of the skin lesion

What treatments can be used for a skin rash?

Initial treatment includes thorough washing with lots of water to remove any trace of the irritant that may remain on the skin. You should avoid further exposure to known irritants or allergens.

In some cases, the best treatment is to do nothing to the area.

Corticosteroid skin creams or ointments may reduce inflammation. Carefully follow the instructions when using these creams, because overuse, even of low-strength over-the-counter products, may cause a troublesome skin condition. In severe cases, systemic corticosteroids may be needed to reduce inflammation. These are usually tapered gradually over about 12 days to prevent recurrence of the rash. In addition to or instead of corticosteroid skin treatment, your doctor may prescribe other RX creams.

Wet dressings and soothing anti-itch or drying lotions such as calamine or products containing Benadryl-type ingredients may be recommended to reduce other symptoms

How long do most cases last?

Contact dermatitis usually clears up without complications within 2 or 3 weeks, but may return if the substance or material that caused it cannot be identified or avoided. A change of occupation or occupational habits may be necessary if the disorder is caused by occupational exposure.

What are the possible complications?

Secondary bacterial skin infections may occur. Scarring from persistent scratching may occur. Small children cannot be told, “don’t scratch” so they should be treated to stop the symptoms. Some itching associated with childhood – and adult-dermatitis that the patient will scratch until the skin bleeds, opening up the higher likelihood of a bacterial infection.

When should I call my dermatologist?

Call your dermatologist if symptoms indicate contact dermatitis and it is severe or there is no improvement of mild cases after home treatment. In most cases our Board-Certified physicians and medical staff can immediately identify the cause and treatment of your skin rash.

In the case of skin rashes which are accompanied by or preceded by fever, contact your primary physician. If your physician rules out disease-caused skin rash, you will usually be referred to a dermatologist.

How do I prevent the occurrence of skin allergies?

Avoid contact with known allergens. Use protective gloves or other barriers if contact with substances is likely or unavoidable. Wash skin surfaces thoroughly after contact with substances. Avoid over treating skin disorders.

Things to avoid if you or family members have skin allergy issues

  • Laundry detergents with color or fragrance.
  • Fabric softeners and dryer sheets with fragrance
  • Commercial cleaning products – Try instead “green” products

*For any procedure and service described on this website, individual results may vary and may not be applicable in all cases.