Allergic contact dermatitis is a condition that occurs after a person’s skin makes contact with an allergen. It typically involves irritation or swelling at the site of contact. Treatment may include topical and oral medications.

An allergic contact dermatitis reaction typically begins when an allergen touches a person’s skin. This leads to an immune response that causes inflammation and other symptoms, such as itchy and scaly skin.

Some allergens that may cause this skin condition include poison ivy, poison oak, nickel, and perfumes. Chemicals and preservatives that people use in some workplaces can also lead to allergic contact dermatitis.

This article explores the condition in more detail, including its symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment. The article also answers some common questions about allergic contact dermatitis.

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The symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis may vary between individuals. They can also depend on the type of allergen and the amount of exposure someone has had to the allergen.

Common symptoms include:

Research suggests that, in most cases, a rash develops hours or days after a person’s skin comes into contact with an allergen. This rash may occur only over a small area of skin at the site of contact, or it can be more widespread across a person’s body.

Coming into contact with an allergen causes allergic contact dermatitis. However, each individual has a unique set of allergies. For this reason, the exact cause of allergic contact dermatitis varies from person to person. Allergies result from immune system responses that lead to inflammation.

Some allergens that can cause this skin condition include:

Certain personal hygiene products can also contain allergens. For example, some shampoos, sunscreens, and deodorants contain ingredients that may trigger allergic reactions. Nail polish and other cosmetic products may also contain ingredients that can cause an allergic reaction.

Chemicals that people use in certain workplaces can lead to allergic contact dermatitis in certain cases. Workplaces where people may come into contact with textile chemicals or certain preservatives may pose a risk of someone developing the condition.

Individuals experiencing symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis should speak with their doctor, who can help determine which allergens are causing the condition.

The first step to receiving an allergic contact dermatitis diagnosis is a physical exam. During this exam, a doctor can identify symptoms of the condition.

They may also ask questions about an individual’s personal medical history. This can help a doctor determine what allergens have caused a person’s symptoms.

To confirm a diagnosis, a medical professional will next conduct a patch test. This test involves placing tiny amounts of an allergen on an area of the person’s skin. If the individual’s skin reacts to a certain allergen, this may support an allergic contact dermatitis diagnosis.

A healthcare professional will decide which allergens to use in a patch test on the basis of a person’s medical history.

Treating allergic contact dermatitis first requires a person to limit their exposure to allergens that trigger the condition. This can be as simple as switching to a new body wash or perfume.

Topical steroids can help treat allergic contact dermatitis that affects only a small area of the body. For more widespread cases, oral corticosteroids may be necessary.

Antihistamines can help reduce symptoms such as itching. Using topical hydrocortisone and soaking the skin in cold water may also ease a person’s symptoms.

For more severe instances of allergic contact dermatitis, treatment may also include:

The best treatment depends on the individual and the severity of their condition. A healthcare professional can recommend which treatment may be most suitable.

Below are some common questions and answers about allergic contact dermatitis.

What is the difference between allergic and irritant contact dermatitis?

According to the National Eczema Association, allergic contact dermatitis happens when an individual comes into contact with an allergen. It is a type of allergic reaction that may take up to 1 or 2 days to develop. For example, brushing up against poison ivy while on a hike may lead to an itchy rash a couple of days later.

Irritant contact dermatitis happens when certain substances cause skin irritation without an allergic reaction. Hair dye, detergents, and overwashing the hands can all trigger this condition. These irritating substances damage skin cells and cause dermatitis symptoms.

How do doctors treat allergic contact dermatitis?

Doctors typically treat allergic contact dermatitis with steroids at first. They may prescribe topical or oral steroids, depending on the amount of skin affected. Additionally, they may recommend antihistamines and self-care techniques, such as soaking the skin in cold water.

Immunomodulators, phototherapy, and immunosuppressive agents can also help treat severe cases.

How long does it take for allergic contact dermatitis to go away?

Allergic contact dermatitis may take weeks to heal fully. However, the amount of time it takes to go away can vary between individuals.

Allergic contact dermatitis is a condition that occurs after skin contact with an allergen. Some examples of allergens that may cause this condition include poison ivy, latex, and nickel.

Individuals with allergic contact dermatitis generally develop itchy and scaly rashes. A doctor can recommend treatments, such as topical or oral corticosteroids. However, a person should aim to completely limit their exposure to any known allergens to prevent triggering their symptoms.

Anyone experiencing symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis should speak with a healthcare professional. They can help determine whether an allergen is causing a person’s symptoms and recommend a personalized treatment plan.