An unexpected rash. Dry, itchy patches of skin. Swollen red areas. If any of these symptoms sound familiar, you may have dermatitis. Dermatitis is a general term used to describe a class of conditions characterized by skin inflammation. It appears in many different forms, from many different causes, and is common for people of all ages. While some types of outbreaks may only occur once, dermatitis is also frequently a long-term condition with times of flare-ups interspersed with times of improvements.
Dermatitis rashes are typically characterized by red, swollen skin that may be dry, itchy, burning, or stinging. Some rashes may develop blisters, crusty flakes, or oozing. While there are multiple specific types of inflammatory skin conditions, the three listed below are the among the most common:
Contact dermatitis is inflammation that develops when skin comes into direct contact with a substance that irritates it. A rash forms on the areas where an irritant touches. Contact dermatitis can manifest as allergic reaction rashes or poison ivy and oak reaction rashes. Oftentimes, these types of rashes are itchy, burning, or stinging, and the skin may blister. Common skin irritants include:
- Soaps and lotions;
- Cosmetic products;
- Essential oils;
- Cleaning products;
- Jewelry – especially pieces made with nickel.
Certain professional occupations carry an increased risk for development of contact dermatitis: there is a high rate of hand dermatitis among health care workers, due to frequent handwashing and drying.
Atopic dermatitis is more commonly known by another name: eczema. Eczema develops in places where skin creases and folds, such as behind the knees, inside the elbows, and on the neck. Breakouts appear as rough, dry patches of skin that may itch. Ezcema is most prevalent in infants and many children outgrow it later in life, but it can also be a long-term condition that comes and goes. While the exact cause of atopic dermatitis is unknown, it is believed to be inherited, with the greatest risk factor being a family history of allergies, asthma, or eczema. Other possible causes include dry skin, an immune system dysfunction, or bacteria that lives on the skin. Click here to read more about the causes, symptoms, and treatment solutions for eczema.
Seborrheic dermatitis is so named due to its connection with sebaceous glands, which are responsible for oil secretions in the body. This type of inflammation appears as red, flaky, or scaly patches of skin on oily areas of the body – like the back, upper chest, face, and scalp. Flaky, peeling dandruff is a form of seborrheic dermatitis, as is cradle cap, which is characterized by crusty, scaly patches of skin on babies’ heads. It’s believed to be caused by a fungus that lives in the oil glands, and flare-ups are prone to waxing and waning with the seasons, with more breakouts occurring during spring and winter.
Diagnosis and Treatment Options
Your doctor will perform a physical examination to determine a diagnosis for your skin condition. He or she may decide to obtain a skin sample for a biopsy, or perform a skin patch test with several common skin irritants to check for allergies. While dermatitis is common, not contagious, and may subside for long periods before flaring up again, when it is present skin inflammation rashes can be itchy, painful and uncomfortable. Over-the-counter corticosteroid creams can be applied to control inflammation, and oral antihistamines (like Benadryl) can be taken to ease itching. You may also find relief with cool compresses to soothe inflamed skin.
At home, take simple self-care steps to reduce your risk for a breakout. Triggers for dermatitis include environmental factors, stress, and hormone fluctuations. Be gentle on your skin by taking shorter showers and baths in lukewarm water, pat (not rub) yourself dry, and then slather on a mild moisturizer to lock in moisture and keep skin hydrated. Buy mild soaps, lotions, and cosmetic products with fewer ingredients, to lessen the chance of skin irritation. Wear 100% cotton and use gentle laundry detergents to wash your clothes.
Try not to scratch areas of inflamed, itchy skin. Excessive scratching can cause the skin to break open and form open areas and sores, which are high risk for becoming infected. If you believe you have an infected area of dermatitis, contact your doctor right away – you may need an antibiotic prescription to wipe out the infection. Here at Florida Dermatology and Skin Cancer Centers, our team of experienced and caring medical professionals is trained to diagnose and treat all types of dermatitis. Visit our website to find the location nearest you, and then contact the office today to schedule an appointment.