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Overview

Do you develop red, itchy bumps around your ankles hours after hiking through the woods? Did a rash appear on your neck after you wore a new necklace? Has your face broken out in hives during an afternoon at the beach?

Poison ivy, jewelry made of certain metals (especially nickel or gold) and sunscreen all can cause contact dermatitis — a skin condition that results from exposure to something to which you’re either sensitive or allergic.

Other common irritants or allergens include:

  • Fragrant soaps
  • Rubber
  • Certain deodorants
  • Bleach
  • Hand sanitizers

Contact Dermatitis Symptoms

Symptoms of contact dermatitis include:

  • Red, irritated skin
  • Itching
  • Swelling
  • Bumps or blisters, sometimes filled with clear fluid
  • Hot or tender skin

These symptoms can range from mild to severe, and they can appear anywhere from a few hours to 10 days after coming into contact with the irritant or allergen. A contact dermatitis rash cannot be spread to anyone else.

If you’ve come into contact with a potential allergen or irritant, immediately wash the affected area with soap and water. 

Contact Dermatitis Treatment

There are two parts to addressing contact dermatitis: First, treat the irritated skin. Next, determine what caused the reaction so you can avoid that allergen or irritant in the future.

Your allergist can prescribe creams — or, in some cases, oral medication — to relieve the itching and help the damaged skin to heal. Antihistamines and ointments can also help. Avoid scratching the affected area to prevent infection.

To help your allergist identify potential causes of your contact dermatitis, record your activities and the items you think led to a reaction — or, if you’re unsure, simply list anything that may have touched your skin in the two days before your symptoms started.

Your allergist might use a patch test to determine potential causes, such as rubber, fragrances or hair dye. Patients are typically asked to wear the patch for 48 hours, keeping it dry for that period. Your allergist will then ask you to return twice — one day after the patches are removed and again a week later — to check on your reaction.

Photoallergic Contact Dermatitis

Photoallergic contact dermatitis occurs when an irritant or allergen causes a reaction only after being exposed to the sun. This can occur with sunscreens, shaving lotion and some perfumes.

Patch testing can help identify the products that cause this reaction.

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