Contact dermatitis

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What is contact dermatitis?

Also known as contact eczema, is inflammation of the skin caused by direct contact with something in the environment. This can be caused by one thing or a mixture of things especially when it comes to hand dermatitis. This is the most common cause of occupational skin conditions very common in cleaners, health care workers, food industry and hairdressers.


What causes contact dermatitis?

It can be caused by either an irritant or an allergy. 

An irritant is contact with something that is not harmful unless done in excess. For example hand washing in health care workers or water in people in the catering trade or hairdressers. 

Allergic contact dermatitis is contact with a substance that individuals have a specific allergy to. For example common ones are nickle, hair dye and preservatives in creams and cosmetics.

What does contact dermatitis look like?

It can have one or more of the following features:

Sore, red, painful, itchy, dry, cracks, blisters or thickening.


How is the diagnosis made?

Irritant contact dermatitis is normally diagnosed on the history of contact with irritant substances and from the features above.

Allergic contact dermatitis is diagnosed on patch testing. This involves adhesive patches to be applied to the back for 2 days. These are then removed by a specialist doctor or nurse who will then look at your back to see which ones have reacted.

Treatment for contact dermatitis

The best treatment is to avoid contact with any irritants or allergic substances.

Protect the skin by wearing gloves, regularly applying moisturisers and avoiding contact with soap. Often patients with this condition need to rethink their career path as some jobs make this condition much worse. 

The rash can be treated with steroid ointments which may be needed along with regular moisturising.

If severe then phototherapy, steroid tablets or tablets that affect your immune system can be used eg methotrexate or ciclosporin.


Further information and support group

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