Dermatitis Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention, Home Remedies

Dermatitis Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention, Home Remedies

What is dermatitis?

Dermatitis is a general term that describes an inflammation of the skin. Although dermatitis can have many causes and occurs in many forms, this disorder usually involves an itchy rash on swollen, reddened skin.

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 poison ivy or certain metals.

Dermatitis is a common condition that usually isn't life-threatening or contagious. Even so, it can make you feel uncomfortable and self-conscious. A combination of self-care steps and medications can help you treat dermatitis.

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Types of Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis (or Eczema)

Atopic dermatitis (or Eczema) is a common skin condition observed in babies, usually beginning before their first birthday. Symptoms include red, dry, scaly and itchy skin. The most commonly affected areas for babies are the face, the scalp, behind the ears and their bodies, arms and legs. For toddlers and older children, the rash can be seen around the knees, elbows and ankles. Eczema improves significantly between 3 and 5 years of age.

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis commonly refers to the allergic reaction the skin experiences when it comes in contact with an irritant. Symptoms include itchy skin and a weeping rash usually only at the site of contact. Adults and children of all ages can be affected.

Seborrhoeic dermatitis

Seborrhoeic dermatitis commonly occurs as cradle cap in infants where the oil glands on the scalp become inflamed. However, it can also appear on the face and other parts of the body. In children, it usually clears up after a few months.

What causes Dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis or Eczema

Atopic dermatitis or Eczema is caused by a mutation in a gene responsible for forming the skin barrier. Disruption to proper skin barrier repair occurs as a result and when exposed to irritants and chemicals, it can trigger the immune system and make the skin inflamed. Certain conditions like illness, heat and stress can aggravate it.

Allergic contact dermatitis

Allergic contact dermatitis can occur when the skin comes in contact with chemicals in cleansers, metals in jewellery or plants such as chrysanthemums. It can last as long as contact with the irritating substance is maintained and a period of 1-2 weeks afterwards.

Seborrhoeic dermatitis

Seborrhoeic dermatitis in infants occurs due to excess production of a greasy substance called sebum from the oil glands on the skin. These glands remain active until the baby is about three months old.

What are the symptoms of Dermatitis?

Atopic dermatitis (eczema)

Usually beginning in infancy, this red, itchy rash most commonly occurs where the skin flexes — inside the elbows, behind the knees and the front of the neck. When scratched, the rash can leak fluid and crust over.

Contact dermatitis

This rash occurs on areas of the body that have come into contact with substances that either irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction, such as poison ivy. The rash may burn, sting or itch. Blisters may develop.

Seborrheic dermatitis

This condition causes a red rash with yellowish and somewhat "oily" scales, usually on the scalp and sometimes on the face, especially around the ears and nose. It's a common cause of dandruff. In infants, this disorder is known as cradle cap.

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if:

  • You're so uncomfortable that you're losing sleep or are distracted from your daily routines
  • Your skin becomes painful
  • You suspect your skin is infected
  • You've tried self-care steps without success

How is Dermatitis diagnosed?

If Eczema is suspected, a doctor or specialist will perform a complete skin examination, taking into account medical history and look for the tell-tale signs such as a chronic rash and itching.

Allergic contact dermatitis can be diagnosed by a doctor after visual examination. Sometimes, they may recommend patch testing which can tell whether a child is allergic to certain substances. The process involves application of patches which contain small amounts of different diluted chemicals on the skin. After 48 hours, if any allergic reactions are observed on the skin, this can show that contact dermatitis may result if exposed to these irritants.

Seborrhoeic dermatitis can be diagnosed by a doctor after visual examination of the skin.

What are the treatments for dermatitis?

The first step in treating dermatitis is to identify and eliminate the cause. Most mild skin inflammation responds well to room temperature baths followed by application of fragrance-free moisturising lotions or over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream.

Seborrhoeic dermatitis may respond to anti-dandruff shampoo. These products may contain tar, salicylic acid, zinc pyrithione, ketoconazole, sulfur or selenium, any of which may be effective.

Once chemicals causing contact dermatitis are identified, treatment will be based on avoidance, symptom relief and other coping mechanisms.

To help clear the lesions of nummular dermatitis, applying a moisturising lotion and corticosteroid cream may be recommended.

If you suffer from stasis dermatitis, wearing support stockings and elevating your legs to reduce their swelling may be advised. Also, the underlying condition that is causing the leg swelling should be controlled. If an open ulcer gets infected, antibiotics may be needed.

To reduce inflammation and heal the irritation of most types of dermatitis, a doctor will usually recommend a prescription corticosteroid cream and may prescribe an oral antihistamine to relieve severe itching and an antibiotic if a secondary infection develops. Severe cases of dermatitis may call for corticosteroid tablets or, in rare cases, injections.

How can I prevent dermatitis?

Most cases of dermatitis develop in people with sensitive skin and can be prevented simply by avoiding the irritant. If you feel you are at risk, consider these preventative steps:

  • Bathe less frequently. Most people who are prone to dermatitis don't need to bathe daily. Try going a day or two without a shower or bath. When you do bathe, limit yourself to 15 to 20 minutes, and use warm, rather than hot, water.
  • Wear loose-fitting, natural-fibre clothing; untreated cotton is ideal.
  • Have warm, not hot, baths or showers and use mild soap or a soap substitute cream
  • Moisturise your skin after a bath using an unscented lotion, ointment or cream.
  • Avoid identified triggers such as plated jewellery, especially in your ears, to prevent nickel-related rashes. Surgical steel or 14-carat gold earring posts are usually better choices.
  • Don't wear a watchstrap that presses against your skin for long periods; the friction and sweat build-up can cause rashes.
  • Consider using a humidifier at home and at work to keep the air from getting too dry.

Home remedies for Dermatitis

These steps can help you manage dermatitis:

  • Use nonprescription anti-itch products. Over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream or calamine lotion can temporarily relieve itching. Oral antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl, others), may be helpful if itching is severe.
  • Apply cool, wet compresses. Covering the affected area with bandages and dressings can help protect your skin and prevent scratching.
  • Take a comfortably cool bath. Sprinkle your bath water with baking soda, uncooked oatmeal or colloidal oatmeal — a finely ground oatmeal that's made for the bathtub.
  • Avoid scratching. Cover the itchy area with a dressing, if you can't keep from scratching it. Trim nails and wear gloves at night.
  • Wear cotton clothing. Smooth-textured cotton clothing can help you avoid irritating the affected area.
  • Choose mild laundry detergent. Because your clothes, sheets and towels touch your skin, choose mild laundry products that are unscented. Avoid fabric softeners.