If you’re struggling with a patch or patches of itchy, scaly, red and raised skin, you may have dermatitis. The most common type of eczema, dermatitis can be persistent and annoying. Thankfully, treatment is fairly straightforward once you and your dermatologist have explored the cause.
The terms eczema and dermatitis are often considered interchangeable. They can both be used to describe red, inflamed rashes that occur on the skin. While the words generally refer to the same condition, eczema describes the rash itself. The word dermatitis (and other forms of dermatitis, i.e. atopic dermatitis) is used to indicate the cause or nature of the rash. If you’re a bit confused about the name, don’t worry! We will explore and discuss the most common names for and types of dermatitis later on. While your peers and medical experts may use the terms slightly differently, treatment is the same no matter what they call it.
If you’ve ever had a rash following an allergic reaction to a new soap, an insect bite, or chemical exposure, you’ve experienced contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis is the most common type of eczema and almost everyone has experienced it in some form at least once.
Allergic contact dermatitis refers to eczema caused by allergens. Common allergens that cause eczema are: poison ivy, oak or sumac, certain metals (most commonly nickel), makeup, or latex gloves. With poison ivy and other poisonous plants, nearly everyone has a reaction that results in allergic contact dermatitis, but the severity can vary from person to person. Like any other allergy, the onset can be sudden. Jewellery you’ve used for years can suddenly cause a rash. Likewise with makeup.
The other main type of contact dermatitis is irritant contact dermatitis. This form of dermatitis results from exposure to anything that irritates or can irritate the skin. Diaper rash, acid burn (like that from battery acid), and dry or cracked hands from water contact are all forms of this condition. Contact with pepper spray, bleach, or other toxic substances will result in eczema as well. Generally speaking, nobody thinks of water or food as an irritant, but if your skin is often exposed to the same thing it can cause irritation, no matter how ordinary the substance. If your hands are often wet at work, you may develop dry, irritated, and cracked hands. Occupations like hairdressing, dishwashing or bartending can lead to irritant contact dermatitis.
Atopic dermatitis is something you’re born with. Doctors don’t know exactly why it happens, but it usually affects children and infants under five years old. It’s a very itchy form of eczema and it usually forms in dry areas of the skin (such as in the creases of elbows or knees) but can appear on any dry skin. It seems linked to colder environments, and can last for years. Constant itching can lead to skin infections, thickened patches of skin, and darkened areas of skin.
A very small percentage of adults continue experiencing atopic dermatitis as they age. For most adults, their atopic dermatitis will either completely clear up or grow more mild as they age. In rare cases, the symptoms of atopic dermatitis do not lessen and adults will experience darker patches that can cover more of the body.
Another common form of dermatitis is seborrheic dermatitis. While it’s unclear what causes it, experts theorize that it may be linked to a certain type of yeast infection in the skin. People with seborrheic dermatitis experience scaly, red skin and stubborn dandruff. It usually affects oily areas of the body, most commonly the scalp and face. The back and other regions of the skin can be impacted as well.
This type of eczema happens mostly on the hands and feet. Unlike other types of eczema, DE usually results in blisters that give way to red, itchy, and painful skin. This condition usually affects people who work with their hands using tools, or are exposed often to cement, nickel, or other metals. Since blisters are common with dyshidrotic eczema, open skin can develop a staph infection. It’s important to treat the infection and eczema, as eczema will not clear if an infection persists.
Dermatitis cannot be cured, but a dermatologist can employ a broad spectrum of tools to treat the symptoms it presents. Your doctor will assess your symptoms and determine the type of dermatitis you have in order to find the cause. If your eczema is caused by something like poison ivy or other types of contact dermatitis, it will usually resolve with treatment. Other types of dermatitis will respond well to treatment, but can recur with some frequency. To prevent future flare-ups, your dermatologist can also recommend certain lifestyle changes or self-care methods, such as applying non-perfumed moisturizers or avoiding known allergens.
More involved treatments may be used if your dermatitis is severe and/or persistent. Phototherapy sessions or immunosuppressant drugs have been used to safely and effectively treat the symptoms of severe dermatitis.
If you think you may have dermatitis, or if you’re struggling with a stubborn rash, reach out to your dermatologist today.
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