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Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a rash that will not go away on its own. It is usually extremely itchy and may appear with any number of the following characteristics:

  • Pink to red color
  • Swelling
  • Blistered skin
  • Crusted skin
  • Dry and scaly skin
  • Thickened skin

Many substances, irritants and/or allergens can cause the skin to react. These substances can be common, including water, detergents, solvents or products used as personal care items such as shampoos and makeup. Irritation may also be caused by chemicals or metals in your workplace, and environmental products and foods you are exposed to frequently. To make the condition go away, you must identify the substance(s) causing your reaction and eliminate contact with them.

A contact dermatitis rash does not usually appear immediately after you are exposed. It may take many hours or even days for the rash to show. A rash may also appear in places that are not in direct contact with the irritant or allergen.

It is possible to develop sensitivity to something you have used for many years. A new sensitivity can also develop from use of a product—a fragrance, soap or other common household item—because the manufacturer has changed ingredients. Careful testing and a review of your health history can help identify the cause of your condition.

Contact dermatitis is not contagious. You cannot give your rash to someone else and you cannot get a contact dermatitis rash from another person. Contact dermatitis may be complicated and requires working carefully with your doctor to determine the cause and how to prevent it, which usually demands strict avoidance of the irritant.

The key to treating contact dermatitis is identifying the irritants or allergens causing it and learning to avoid those substances. Dermatologists at Indiana University Health have the expertise and resources to help you pinpoint possible causes of your rash. These include testing for as many as 400 common allergens and irritants. We also take the time to gather an extensive history from you, which can reveal a hidden cause.

Testing may not always indicate the cause of your rash. Results may eliminate many possible causes and direct us to look more carefully at your history. We work with you to discover possible causes of your condition and suggest ways to avoid them. By eliminating contact with a substance, you may notice that the change reduces or resolves your rash.

Helping you determine the cause of your dermatitis is part of the comprehensive care we provide. We take time to help you understand the nature of your condition and what you can do to correct it. Education is an essential part of treatment for contact dermatitis. We help you learn all the ways you come into contact with the allergens or irritants that cause your rash. This can help you plan behavioral changes to eliminate your contact with causes.

How We Can Help

How We Can Help

Contact Dermatitis Treatment Information

We can provide short-term treatment for contact dermatitis with steroids. These can be various topical (on the surface of the skin) medicines, oral medicines or injections that temporarily reduce inflammation. The key to successful long-term treatment for contact dermatitis is proper care of your skin and avoiding the particular causes of your condition.

To develop an effective skin-care routine, we recommend the names of safe cleansers and moisturizers from the Contact Allergen Replacement Database (CARD). We use CARD to create a personalized list of skin care products that help you avoid using brands that contain your skin allergen. Here are the basic steps for proper skin care:

  1. Hydrate your skin by soaking the affected area in water for 20-30 minutes.
  2. Use a safe cleanser from the CARD list.
  3. Rinse and pat your skin dry.
  4. Apply a liberal amount of a safe moisturizer from the CARD list.

After you clean and moisturize your skin, apply the topical (on the surface of the skin) steroid that may be prescribed for you. Follow directions carefully. In addition to your skin care routine, you should take an oral steroid if it is prescribed. If your symptoms are severe, we may administer a steroid injection.

The most important treatment for contact dermatitis is discovering and avoiding the causes of your reaction. We can test for possible irritants and allergens, and this testing may identify one or more of the substances you need to avoid. If you don’t react to any of these materials, you can still use this knowledge to search for the cause(s) of your rash.

The Household Products Database is an excellent tool for discovering what you may be reacting to and where you may come into contact with it. We can offer other tools and methods as well.

Your search can be successful. We are committed to giving you the support you need, and we can provide medicines as necessary to control flare-ups of your symptoms.


Contact Dermatitis Locations & Physicians

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Contact Dermatitis Support Services

Education is an essential part of treatment for contact dermatitis. Learn more about this condition at the websites below.