Contact Dermatitis – The Eczema You Can Avoid
Like occupational dermatitis, contact dermatitis is another form of eczema that can be avoided. This type of eczema is mainly caused by contact with everyday objects (shampoo, food, water, jewelry, etc.)
When the contact results in irritated skin, it is called irritant contact dermatitis. If there is an allergic reaction on the skin after contact, the eczema is called allergic contact dermatitis.
The reaction to allergic contact dermatitis is immediate and fast – developing only a few hours after the allergen touches the person’s skin. The result is an itchy, swollen and red skin.
There will be blisters if the reaction is severe enough. In addition, these blisters may break and the skin may flake and crack later.
In long-term exposures, the skin becomes thick, red and scaly. More than that period and the skin darkens and becomes leathery.
Things get worse once irritant contact dermatitis has developed. Exposure or contacts with even mild substances (baby shampoo or even water) can irritate the skin and make the condition real bad.
There are more than 3,000 allergens known to cause allergic contact dermatitis. Some of the more common ones include antibiotic ointments, clothing (dyes and fire retardants) and shoes (the leather, glue or rubber).
Concrete is often the cause of chronic hand dermatitis. The reaction to concrete sometimes can persist long after contact was made.
Fragrances in perfumes, make-ups, and skin and hair products can be a cause for allergic reactions. Products labeled “unscented” can still cause reactions because they do have scents, only these are masked. (Seek out products marked “fragrance free.”)
There are many metals that can cause allergic reactions all around us – nickels (found in jewelry and food including tomatoes, chocolates and nuts), mercury (dental fillings), gold, chromate (for tanning leather) and many others.
Other irritants include plants (poison ivy, poison oak), UV light exposure, and perspiration (combined with metals).
Irritant contact dermatitis develops when a substance destroys the skin cells it is in contact with before the skin can repair itself. These include detergents, soaps, cleaners, hair dyes, solvents, oils, paints, and many more.
The first serious risk factor for contact dermatitis is the person’s medical history. Risk is higher for people with a history of atopic dermatitis or some other form of allergic-related illnesses.
Younger people are more susceptible to allergic contact dermatitis. Those with repeat exposures will have a higher risk than someone who’s never been exposed.
Some people in certain jobs have a much higher risk than most people. These are the health care workers, hairdressers, food handlers, bartenders, and many more. Also, females tend to have a slightly higher risk than males.
Of course, the first commandment is to avoid all substances that cause the irritation or allergy. Dermatologists can help patients develop strategies to work around them – wearing gloves, using barrier creams, etc.
Treatments include applying emollients and moisturizers, taking oral antihistamines, and using topical corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.
In more severe cases of contact dermatitis eczema, doctors can prescribe oral or injectable corticosteroids for short-term relief. Since the causes of this form of eczema are known (most of them, anyway), would-be patients has the chance to avoid them.
Getting to Know Eczema
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