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Contact Dermatitis

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 3, 2022.

What is contact dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis is a skin rash. It develops when you touch something that irritates your skin or causes an allergic reaction.

What causes contact dermatitis?

The following items are common irritants or allergens that can cause contact dermatitis:

  • Soaps, lotions, or makeup
  • Chemicals, such as those in cleaning products
  • Urine or bowel movement
  • Coarse paper, glass, or wool
  • Plants, such as poison ivy or poison oak
  • Certain metals, such as chromium or nickel
  • Rubber or latex
  • Certain topical medicines, such as antibiotic or steroid cream

What are the signs and symptoms of contact dermatitis?

  • Red, swollen, painful rash
  • Skin that itches, stings, or burns
  • Dry, scaly, or crusty skin patches
  • Bumps or blisters
  • Fluid draining from blisters

How is contact dermatitis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider can diagnose your rash by looking at it. He or she will ask when your signs and symptoms started. Tell him or her how long they last and what triggers them. He or she may ask if you have been exposed to any new chemicals, products, or topical medicines.

How is contact dermatitis treated?

The best treatment is to remove whatever irritant or allergen causes your rash. You may also need medicines to decrease itching and swelling. They will be given as a topical medicine to apply to your rash or as a pill.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

How can I manage contact dermatitis?

  • Take short baths or showers in cool water. Use mild soap or soap-free cleansers. Add oatmeal, baking soda, or cornstarch to the bath water to help decrease skin irritation.
  • Avoid skin irritants , such as makeup, hair products, soaps, and cleansers. Use products that do not contain perfume or dye.
  • Apply a cool compress to your rash. This will help soothe your skin.
  • Apply lotions or creams to the area. These help keep your skin moist and decrease itching. Apply the lotion or cream right after a lukewarm bath or shower when your skin is still damp. Use products that do not contain a scent.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You have sudden trouble breathing.
  • Your throat swells and you have trouble eating.
  • Your face is swollen.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have a fever.
  • Your blisters are draining pus.
  • Your rash spreads or does not get better, even after treatment.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.