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Contact dermatitis is a type of inflammation of the skin. It results from exposure to either allergens or irritants.

Signs and Symptoms:

Red rash:

This is the usual reaction. The rash appears immediately in irritant contact dermatitis; in allergic contact dermatitis, the rash sometimes does not appear until 24–72 hours after exposure to the allergen.

Blisters or wheals:

Blisters, wheals (welts), and urticaria (hives) often form in a pattern where skin was directly exposed to the allergen or irritant.

Itchy burning skin:

Irritant contact dermatitis tends to be more painful than itchy, while allergic contact dermatitis often itches.


It results from either exposure to allergens (allergic contact dermatitis) or irritants (irritant contact dermatitis). Phototoxic dermatitis occurs when the allergen or irritant is activated by sunlight. 


Calamine lotion may relieve itching on the skin. If blistering develops, cold moist compresses can offer relief. Apply the cold compress for 30 minutes, 3 times a day. Scratching should be avoided. Some oral antihistamines like diphenhydramine (Benadryl, Ben-Allergin) may relieve itching. Hydrocortisone cream in nonprescription strength may be sufficient for mild cases over smaller areas. Wash immediately with soap and cool water, after exposure to a known allergen or irritant, to remove or inactivate most of the substance. Weak acid solutions (lemon juice, vinegar) can be used to counteract the effects of dermatitis contracted by exposure to basic irritants. Barrier creams containing zinc oxide (e.g., Desitin, etc.), can offer help to retain moisture and protect the skin.

Medical Care:

After 2-3 days of self-care, if the rash does not improve or continues to spread or if the itching and/or pain is severe, you should contact a dermatologist or other physician. Medical treatment usually includes use of creams, lotions, or oral medications.

A corticosteroid medication like hydrocortisone may be prescribed to combat inflammation in a localized area. It may be applied to the skin as a cream or ointment. If the reaction covers a relatively large portion of the skin or is severe, a corticosteroid in pill or injection form may be prescribed.

In severe cases, a stronger medicine like halobetasol may be prescribed by a dermatologis. Prescription antihistamines may be given if non-prescription strengths are inadequate.

Top UK Dermatologists Online Consultation

For more information on this topic please click on the links below

Link to British Association of Dermatologists article on dermatology from DermUK
Link to DermNet NZ article on dermatology from DermUK
Link to Medscape dermatology article from DermUK
Link to NICE clinical knowledge summary on dermatology from DermUK

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