Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a red, itchy rash caused by direct contact with a substance or an allergic reaction to it. The rash isn’t contagious or life-threatening, but it can be very uncomfortable.

Many substances can cause such reactions, including soaps, cosmetics, fragrances, jewelry and plants.

To treat contact dermatitis successfully, you need to identify and avoid the cause of your reaction. If you can avoid the offending substance, the rash usually clears up in two to four weeks. You can try soothing your skin with cool, wet compresses, anti-itch creams and other self-care steps.

What are the symptoms?

Contact dermatitis usually occurs on areas of your body that have been directly exposed to the reaction-causing substance — for example, along a calf that brushed against poison ivy or under a watchband. The rash usually develops within minutes to hours of exposure and can last two to four weeks.

Signs and symptoms of contact dermatitis include:

  • A red rash
  • Itching, which may be severe
  • Dry, cracked, scaly skin
  • Bumps and blisters, sometimes with oozing and crusting
  • Swelling, burning or tenderness

Treatment Options

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if:

  • The rash is so uncomfortable that you are losing sleep or are distracted from your daily activities
  • The rash is sudden, painful, severe or widespread
  • You’re embarrassed by the way your skin looks
  • The rash doesn’t get better within three weeks
  • The rash affects your face or genitals

Seek immediate medical care in the following situations:

  • You think your skin is infected. Clues include fever and pus oozing from blisters.
  • Your lungs, eyes or nasal passages are painful and inflamed, perhaps from inhaling an allergen.
  • You think the rash has damaged the mucous lining of your mouth and digestive tract.

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