Everything you need to know about Allergic dermatitis or contact dermatitis

We have discussed allergies in earlier posts. You may be already suffering from allergies and skin allergies we call it as allergic dermatitis or contact dermatitis. 

Here we are going to discuss allergic or contact dermatitis in detail as it will help you know about the condition and you can control it or take timely medical help as needed.

What is allergy?

We all have an immune system to protect us from the environment and attacks from the environment. When we come in contact with various factors in the environment our system tries to protect us from them using our immune mechanism.

Our immune system does this process by producing various chemicals by our cells that are specialized to do so. When these chemicals are produced more than needed we suffer instead of helping us.

So allergy is also called a hypersensitive reaction in which our own system makes us suffer when we come in contact with allergy inducing agents in the environment. These allergy inducing agents are called allergens.

What is allergen?

Allergen is anything that induces allergic symptoms stated above. You may come in contact with allergen from food, air particles or water or your surrounding environment.

After coming in contact with allergen you suffer the allergic symptoms. Allergen induces your own body cells to secrete normal chemicals in abnormal amounts that makes you suffer to face all these symptoms.

Literally anything under the sun, including the sun can cause you allergic manifestations. 

What is contact dermatitis?

Allergens can come in our system in various ways. Some are inhaled while breathing, some are eatables and some induce allergies when they come in contact with skin.

When we get a reaction on skin when the skin comes in contact with an allergen we call it allergic dermatitis. Actually the meaning of dermatitis is inflammation of the skin. So inflammation of the skin caused by allergen coming in contact with it is called allergic contact dermatitis.

What are symptoms of allergic or contact dermatitis?

The symptoms of the allergic contact dermatitis vary from very mild symptoms to very severe symptoms. 

The spectrum of symptoms is very wide and can occur with in any age group infants to old age adults.

The symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis can occur equally in both males and females as this condition can affect both the sexes.

When the allergen comes in contact with skin the symptoms can occur in a few people within a few minutes to hours.

The symptoms of this condition are as follows:

Everything you need to know about Allergic dermatitis or contact dermatitis
Contact dermatitis
Everything you need to know about Allergic dermatitis or contact dermatitis
Contact dermatitis


The area that can come in contact with allergen becomes itchy and you try to scratch it as it brings a string urge to itch. Like other allergies in which entire skin may be involved in this condition only the area of skin that comes in contact with allergen is involved.


Erythema in simple english means redness of the skin. This redness of the skin occurs in the area of contact of allergen and it is associated with itching. Erythema occurs within a few minutes to hours of contact with allergen.


The area that may come in contact with the on=bject containing allergen may have multiple mosquito bite lille blebs. They may appear within some time of exposure to an allergen.


You may see peeling of the skin in the area of contact of the allergen. Really redness and peeling with itching sensation classically and strongly indicates contact dermatitis. The skin may look inflamed in the affected area.

Burning sensation

The which has inflammation and itching also may have burning sensation in the area of allergic or contact dermatitis.

Darkening of the skin

With repeated attacks of contact dermatitis if the offending agent is removed it may cause the darkening of the skin in the localized area of the contact.

Dryness of the skin

The skin in contact with allergen may look dry and peeled and feels rough on touch. 

Scaling of the skin

After some time if the exposure is continued the peeled dry skin may look scaly as colourless white scales may develop in the localized area.

What are the objects or allergens that cause contact dermatitis?

Many objects coming into skin contact may cause allergic dermatitis or contact dermatitis. Some common of them are as follows:

  • Nickel containing materials and ornaments.
  • Diapers in babies.
  • Medicines like neomycin.
  • poison ivy, poison sumac, poison oak.
  • Grass like congress grass.
  • Apparel contains a number of sensitizers, including dyes, dye fixative, fabric finishes, fibers, resins, and cleaning solutions.
  • The elastic material in garments is a frequent cause of clothing dermatitis, and contact allergy to the ink “tag” of tagless baby clothing has been reported.
  • Topical medications and cosmetics: neomycin, topical antihistamines, topical anesthetics, fragrances, topical corticosteroids, oxybenzone and octocrylene in chemical sunscreens, preservatives, dye in temporary tattoos, and ethylenediamine, a stabilizer present in many medications.
  • All types of cosmetics can cause facial dermatitis; involvement of the eyelids is characteristic for nail polish sensitivity.
  • Shoe dermatitis typically affects the dorsum or soles of the feet and toes, sparing the interdigital spaces; it is usually symmetric.
  • Lemon juice applied to skin and then skin exposed to sunlight is a strong irritant causing dermatitis.

How to diagnose allergic dermatitis?

Allergic dermatitis is mainly diagnosed based on history. In history following facts are noted:

  • Age and sex of the patient.
  • Frequency of the occurrence of the symptoms.
  • Time of exposure before appearance of the symptoms.
  • History of exposure before symptoms.
  • Area of the skin the symptoms appear.
  • First time the symptoms had occurred.
  • Repeatability of symptoms after exposure.
  • Any family history of similar allergies or allergic rhinitis or other allergic illnesses.
  • Any remedy used before for the symptoms.
  • How do symptoms reduce each time?

How to treat allergic dermatitis?

Depending on severity allergic dermatitis is treated. As we have discussed earlier that the symptoms of the allergic dermatitis can be very mild to very severe too.

The treatment of allergic dermatitis is done with following strategies:

Stop contact

Stopping use of objects that are causing you allergic dermatitis is the best strategy in treatment of the allergic dermatitis. Medicines will reduce the symptoms but if you want to become totally free of symptoms stopping contact with allergic agents is the best strategy.

Local treatment with steroids

Mild local steroid creams are useful to reduce the symptoms of the local allergic reaction. Depending on the need of the situation mild to potent to extremely potent steroids can be selected for local applications. Those are generally available on prescription and use them only with medical consultation.

Antihistaminic drugs

Antihistaminic drugs are anti allergic drugs and they can be useful in nickel contact dermatitis. First generation antihistamine drugs are sedating drugs like hydroxyzine, promethazine and they are useful in children if they have disturbed sleep because of symptoms.

Medical practitioners advice  to take antihistamine orally or by injection.

Some of the antihistaminic drugs are available as OTC drugs if but you take them in improper doses, they can be harmful. Use them with medical consultation.

Local moisturizers

The skin has become dry and there are itchy local moisturizers may help to reduce the symptoms. There are mild to very powerful moisturizers available in the market. Appropriate moisturizer is useful with medical advice.

Oral steroids

If local medicines are helpful and the condition is severe, oral steroids are useful to treat the allergies and contact dermatitis.

Use these drugs only as per suggestions of your doctor or it may cause more harm than any benefit to you.

Wet compresses

Wet compresses can reduce the burning sensation of the inflamed skin. Get it with medical advice. It may cause maceration if taken in a wrong way. Macerated skin may get super infection by bacteria causing another problem.

Desensitization therapy

For contact dermatitis use of desensitization therapy is rare and is useful in very few patients.

How to prevent allergic dermatitis?

Stop contact

Stopping use of objects that are causing you allergic dermatitis is the best strategy in treatment of the allergic dermatitis. Medicines will reduce the symptoms but if you want to become totally free of symptoms stopping contact with allergic agents is the best strategy.

Find replacements

Many times stopping offending allergen is not possible and cannot be avoided totally. In that case you should find appropriate replacement in place of offending agents. You should use similar but not allergy causing ornaments in place of those causing allergy.


The objects that induce allergy can be coated with the material that does not induce allergy.


Select the close that won’t cause you allergy. While buying clothes you should see that the fabrics of that clothes and colour dyes used to make it should not cause you allergy. 

Wrist watches

We use our wrist watches for many hours a day. For some people they may cause contact dermatitis. You should select wrist watches that cannot induce allergy on your wrist. You should know what material it is using for its straps.

<span class="has-inline-color has-luminous-vivid-orange-color">Dr Yatin Bhole MBBS DCh DNB</span>
Dr Yatin Bhole MBBS DCh DNB

This article was written by Dr Yatin Bhole who is practicing Pediatrician at Bhole Children Clinic, Ravet. This post is for general information and before applying it on yourself, you should meet your doctor or meet us in person.

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