Contact Dermatitis, sometimes called allergic dermatitis, will persist as long as the skin is exposed to the irritant causing the problem. Treatment for contact dermatitis requires that you identify the cause of the rash, and then avoid it.
Pay close attention to the extent of the dermatitis, including where the rash is located and consider any new products, soaps, detergents, fabrics, plants or jewelry that may be the causing the problem. For example, if the rash is limited to a small area, such as the wrist, check to see if a watch might be irritating the skin, removing the watch will halt the progress of the contact dermatitis.
- Over the counter creams containing at least 1% hydrocortisone temporarily relieves itching.
- Oral antihistamines such as Benadryl can be helpful if itching is severe.
- For more severe cases, a doctor may prescribe Corticosteroids, Pimecrolimus cream, or Tacrolimus ointment.
- Wet dressings applied over steroid creams – this locks in the moisture and allows the cream to penetrate the skin more.
- Prescribed oral medications in some cases.
Managing Contact Dermatitis
- First, avoid contact with the item or substance causing the irritation. Contact dermatitis can occur multiple times. Infected skin can react again if you come into contact with the allergen.
- Take cool baths to soothe outbreaks. Adding colloidal oatmeal provides added relief.
- Wash the infected area. Soak a soft washcloth in warm water until saturated. Gently pat or rub where contact dermatitis is visible. Use a separate clean cloth to dry the infected area thoroughly.
- Large blisters may require draining. If the skin is broken, there may be a risk of bacterial infection, which can actually lead to developing a new allergy and ultimately becoming more susceptible to future outbreaks. The most common infection-causing bacteria in cases of contact dermatitis are staph and strep varieties. If an outbreak becomes infected, prescription antibiotics may be necessary.
- Apply ointment or cream. Follow the directions carefully if the medication is prescribed – Corticosteroids can be quite strong so doctors recommend using only the smallest dosage necessary.
- Apply an anti-itch or anti-drying lotion. Contact dermatitis can be painful. The infected area might feel constantly itchy. Your doctor may prescribe a specific cream to be applied which will help reduce or stop the itch.
- Take over the counter antihistamine (Benadryl) if itching is severe.
- If prescribed, take oral medications. In more severe cases, your doctor may prescribe a steroid to take orally. These are powerful medications and should clear the infection. It is important to take steroidal medication as directed, and never skip a dose.
When to Seek Help
Once the source of the Contact Dermatitis has been identified and eliminated, the rash usually clears up within four to six weeks, though it may become dry, crusty or flaky as it heals. See your doctor if:
- Itching becomes very uncomfortable
- You are losing sleep or are distracted from your daily routines
- Your skin becomes painful
- You suspect your skin is infected
Alternative Medicine: The Definitive Guide. Dermatitis. Future Medicine Publishing, Inc. 2008.