Contact dermatitis: Many health care workers develop an allergy to latex, as did this nurse. Her rash is due to touching her face while wearing latex gloves.
Almost everyone gets this type of eczema at least once. We get contact dermatitis when something that our skin touches causes a rash. Some rashes happen immediately. Most take time to appear.
Allergic contact dermatitis
Some people have an allergic skin reaction. You have had this type of contact dermatitis if you had a rash caused by:
Irritant contact dermatitis
This type is more common. It develops when something irritates the skin. With enough contact, most things will irritate our skin. A person diagnosed with any of the following has irritant contact dermatitis:
When a toxic substance touches our skin, the skin is quickly irritated. You’ve had irritant contact dermatitis if your skin reacted to a toxic substance like:
You can also develop irritant contact dermatitis when you have lots of contact with less irritating substances like:
People often develop irritant contact dermatitis at work. Beauticians, nurses, bartenders, and others who spend lots of time with wet hands get this. It often starts with dry, cracked hands. In time, the skin on their hands may begin to sting and burn. The skin becomes very tender. Sometimes, the skin itches and bleeds.
When a rash does not clear within a few weeks, you should see a dermatologist.
When contact dermatitis develops, treatment is important. It can prevent the contact dermatitis from worsening and help your skin heal.
When to seek immediate medical care
A few people develop a severe allergic reaction known as anaphylaxis (an-uh-fuh-lax-sis). Symptoms occur within seconds or minutes. A person may have:
In short, the entire body reacts. If you have any of these symptoms, you need immediate medical care.
Allergic contact dermatitis
This skin condition occurs when you have an allergic reaction to something that comes in contact with your skin.
Signs and symptoms rarely appear on contact. It may take a few hours for your skin to react. If this is your first time that your skin has an allergic reaction to that substance, weeks may pass before you notice anything.
When signs and symptoms appear, you may have:
If exposure to the allergen continues, your skin may:
Irritant contact dermatitis
Many substances can irritate our skin. Soap, shampoo, food, and water are mild irritants. With lots of exposure, these can cause irritant contact dermatitis. Getting a strong irritant like battery acid or fiberglass on your skin just once also can cause irritant contact dermatitis.
The signs and symptoms differ for mild and strong irritants.
Mild irritant: The signs and symptoms develop over time. You’ll gradually notice:
The face, neck, and hands are most susceptible to irritant contact dermatitis.
Strong irritant: On contact or within a few hours, the skin can:
When you have irritant contact dermatitis, many things can irritate your skin. You may feel pain on contact. With repeat exposure, the condition worsens.
Reduced quality of life
This skin condition often affects a person’s quality of life. The rash can make many daily activities painful, especially when the rash forms on the hands. The rash can cause:
Who gets contact dermatitis?
Anyone can develop contact dermatitis. People working in certain professions have a higher risk. In fact, this is so common that your doctor may tell you that you have occupational dermatitis.
People who are more likely to get occupational dermatitis include:
Nurses and beauticians often develop dry, cracked skin on their palms and fingers. Wearing latex gloves frequently throughout the day causes some people to develop an allergy to latex. A common sign of this allergy is itchy, inflamed hands.
You also have a greater risk of developing contact dermatitis if you have (or had) one of these medical conditions:
Your environment also plays a role. Extreme heat or cold, high humidity, and very dry air make the skin more vulnerable.
What causes contact dermatitis?
A person develops contact dermatitis when something that touches the skin does one of the following:
When the skin is irritated, a person develops irritant contact dermatitis. Anyone can develop this type of contact dermatitis. It happens when something damages the outer layers of skin.
Almost any chemical, including water, can damage the skin with enough contact. Toxic substances like fiberglass and turpentine quickly damage the skin. Many people develop irritant contact dermatitis when they work with hair dyes, solvents, oils, paints, varnishes, foods, or metalworking fluids.
An allergic reaction causes allergic contact dermatitis. People develop allergic reactions to many substances. Some of the most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis are:
Many people touch a substance for years before an allergy develops.
Sometimes a trigger is needed for an allergic reaction to occur. Allergic contact dermatitis may only occur when the skin:
More than 3,600 substances can cause allergic contact dermatitis. These substances include preservatives in cosmetics, antibiotics applied to the skin, animal dander, dyes in clothing and shoes, and rubber.
With thousands of causes, successfully treating this skin condition can take a bit of detective work. Dermatologists frequently treat this condition. In fact, this is one of the most common reasons to see a dermatologist.
Many things can cause a rash, including your wedding ring, glasses, clothing, and cell phone.
Sometimes you can get rid of a rash yourself. These dermatologists’ tips can help you find the cause.
Once you know what’s causing your rash, avoiding it often clears the rash.
To help you find the cause, follow these steps:
Rash beneath jewelry, shoes, or clothing
If a rash develops where jewelry, shoes, gloves or other clothing, a zipper, a buckle, or a fastener touches your skin:
If the rash begins to clear when you stop wearing the item, you may have an allergy to a metal, dye, or fabric finisher.
Some people develop an allergy to jewelry that they’ve worn for years. The cause is often nickel, a metal found in many pieces of jewelry. A wedding ring can cause this problem. In fact, this rash is so common that it has a name, wedding-ring dermatitis.
If this happens, ask your dermatologist for tips to prevent getting a rash from your wedding ring.
Rash on face
It can be a challenge to find the cause of this rash, but you can start by answering the following questions:
Directly applying a fragrance can cause a rash. You can also get a rash from indirect contact. Touching a a towel or pillow that has a fragrance on it could cause a rash.
Rash on side of face, neck, hairline, or chest
You can often find the cause of a rash in one of these areas by asking yourself these questions:
Do you hold your cell phone against your face?
A rash that appears on one side of the face may indicate that you have an allergy to nickel or chromium. Some cell phones contain one of these metals. You also could have an allergy to something in the case you use for your cell phone.
These can cause a rash.
Rash after hiking or being in a wooded area
If you were in a wooded area, you may have touched poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac without knowing it. Poison ivy is one of the most common causes of allergic contact dermatitis.
The following tips can help:
A rash from poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac is caused by an oil found in these plants called urushiol (you-ROO-shee-all). When this oil touches your skin, it often causes an itchy, blistering rash.
Most people can safely treat the rash at home. However, if you experience any of the following symptoms, go to the emergency room right away.
If you have any of the following, go to the emergency room right away:
If you do not have the above symptoms, the rash appears on a small section of your skin, and you are absolutely certain that your rash is due to poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, you may be able to treat the rash at home.
To treat a rash from poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac and help stop the itch, dermatologists recommend the following:
If your rash is not improving after seven to 10 days, or you think your rash may be infected, see a board-certified dermatologist. A dermatologist can treat your rash and any infection and help relieve the itch.
Rash from musical instrument
Metals in musical instruments, such as nickel, cobalt, palladium, silver, and gold, can cause a rash. So too can cane reeds and exotic woods. Stains, glues, and varnishes also cause contact dermatitis.
Dermatologists recommend the following to people who get a rash from playing a musical instrument:
When to see a dermatologist
You’ll want to make an appointment If you have a rash that:
Sometimes we can find one cause but miss others. For example, many people develop an allergy to nickel. This metal is so common that it may be in your wedding ring and dozens of products that you regularly use.
A dermatologist can help you find out if you have any allergies. If you have an allergy, your dermatologist can create a plan to help you avoid things that cause your rash.
Many dermatologists use databases that can tell them what products you should avoid if you have an allergy and what products you can use. This alone could save you lots of time and money.