What is Dermatitis?
Dermatitis is a very a general term that describes an “inflammation of the skin.” Like many other skin conditions, dermatitis can have different causes and can occur in many forms. It usually involves an itchy rash on swollen, reddened, sometimes thickened skin.
Dermatitis is a common condition that is not contagious, but it can make you feel very uncomfortable and self-conscious about your appearance. A combination of self-care steps and medications can help you treat dermatitis.
Appearance and Symptoms
Skin affected by dermatitis may blister, ooze, develop a crust or flake off. Examples of dermatitis include atopic dermatitis (eczema), dandruff and rashes caused by contact with any of a number of substances, such as poison ivy, soaps and jewelry with nickel in it. Conditions such as psoriasis, skin cancer, and seborrhea can also look similar to dermatitis, but they are different, as you will come to learn.
Like other rashes, a dermatitis rash is itchy and red, and it may or may not have distinct margins or borders. The specific look of the rash depends on the amount of time that it has been present. Acute dermatitis is comprised of blisters, while Subacute dermatitis has scaling and crusting, and chronic dermatitis has “Lichenification,” meaning thickened skin.
Types of Dermatitis
There are several distinct types of dermatitis:
- Allergic contact dermatitis: This is a delayed hypersensitivity reaction involving allergens and antibodies.
- Irritant contact dermatitis: This is exposure to irritating chemicals or detergents.
- Atopic dermatitis: an allergic-type reaction that is accompanied by hay fever, asthma, and very dry skin.
Other types of dermatitis include:
- Seborrheic Dermatitis (cradle cap): Yellow, greasy scales like dandruff on the scalp and hair-bearing areas of the head, neck, and upper chest;
- Dyshidrotic Dermatitis (pompholyx): A type of dermatitis on the hands or feet that is characterized by redness, scaling, and deep blisters;
- Stasis Dermatitis: Occurs on the ankles and lower legs of people with venous insufficiency;
- Nummular Dermatitis: Coin-shaped patches that occur anywhere on the body in relation to dry skin;
- Diaper Dermatitis: A type of irritant dermatitis that’s caused by extended exposure of the skin to wet diapers;
- Autosensitization Dermatitis: An itchy rash that occurs in response to an intense inflammatory process somewhere else on the body, especially a fungal infection.
- Lichen Simplex Chronicus: A rash that’s caused by long-term scratching of an area, producing thickened skin.
Generally, dermatitis is diagnosed clinically, meaning based on the history and appearance of the rash. However, it can be difficult to tell the difference between the dermatitis types, which is why it is important to seek out a medical professional for assistance.
There are tests that can be run, which will help with the diagnosis. Distinguishing the difference in the types of dermatitis is key. Contact dermatitis is different than Atopic dermatitis. Your doctor may also choose to run a KOH test, which helps to identify a fungal infection.
Dermatitis is best treated if the type is known, however, there are measures that can be taken to improve symptoms even if the exact dermatitis type is not known:
- First and foremost, keep skin as moisturized as possible. Dry skin causes cracks in the outer layer, which can cause problems.
- Secondly, try not to scratch! Logically you know this, but it can be tough advice to follow. Reduce itching and scratching with topical medications or antihistamines.
- Another important step is to avoid irritating and drying substances such as perfumes or harsh detergents. These things can really exacerbate matters.
- If you have more than one breakout on multiple parts of your body, they could be related, so be sure to tell your doctor or health care professional to check everything out.
Topical Steroids and Dermatitis
Topical steroids are often used to treat dermatitis. They come in different strengths and can have significant side effects. All topical steroids (except for hydrocortisone cream) must be prescribed by a health care provider. Be sure to ask for assistance with all medications.
Make Sure to See Your Doctor
- If you’re so uncomfortable that you are losing sleep or are distracted from your daily routines.
- If your skin becomes painful.
- If you suspect your skin is infected.
- If you’ve tried self-care steps without success.