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Introduction to Dermatitis

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Dermatitis or rashes refers to the inflammation of the skin tissues that is characterized by change in the color and/or texture of the skin. It may or may not be associated with itching sensation.

A rash is a general term that encompasses all the inflammatory skin reaction occurring as a response to various conditions or substances/agents that irritate the skin tissues. Rashes may either be a simple reaction that persist for a few hours to days or may be a severe condition that may persist for longer periods and result in permanent scarring.

Rashes may be observed during any age that includes infancy to old age. Some of the common types of dermatitis include: contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, nummular dermatitis and perioral dermatitis. These skin conditions have different underlying causes, but are all characterized by the appearance of rashes on the skin along with other specific features.1,2


Causes of Dermatitis

The redness of the skin or a change in texture of the skin may be caused due to various skin conditions. The cause varies with the type of underlying disorder or condition present.

Some of the common conditions that are associated with dermatitis are enumerated below.

Contact dermatitis:
Due to contact (touching/holding) with certain substances that initiate an allergic reaction, such as soaps or detergents, cleaning agents, chemicals, cosmetics, some materials such as rubber or its products, metals, some plants such as poison ivy, etc. Contact dermatitis


Atopic dermatitis:
The exact cause of atopic dermatitis is not known but it has been proposed to be a hereditary condition that may also be observed in individuals associated with other types of allergic conditions such as asthma.


Seborrheic dermatitis:
Age, stress, oily skin and other factors may be associated with seborrheic dermatitis.

Dermatitis may also be associated with various other disorders of the body, bacterial, viral or fungal infections and allergic reactions to certain drugs or medications.1


Signs and Symptoms of Dermatitis

Dermatitis is characterized by redness of the skin that may or may not be associated with skin eruptions and itching. These rashes may be observed only in specific place in case of conditions such as contact dermatitis or may be widespread in other conditions. The skin may or may not be scaly. Pain may not be present in many cases.


Diagnosis of Dermatitis

The diagnosis of rashes is made on the evaluation of the signs and symptoms observed. Certain specific laboratory tests such as the patch test or other tests to identify the underlying disorder that may have resulted in dermatitis may be advised by the doctor.

Treatment for Dermatitis

Simple rashes usually resolve with proper home care measures such as:

  • Using gentle cleansing solutions to clean the affected areas (avoid scrubbing and repeated cleaning)
  • Cosmetic substances should not be applied on the affected areas
  • Hot water tends to increase the skin irritation and hence normal or warm water should be used to clean the area
  • Do not rub the affected areas after cleaning, instead pat dry them
  • Certain medicated lotions that contain calamine may be helpful

A consultation with a doctor should be made if the rashes are present for a long duration of time, are not resolved with home care or are associated with other features such as joint pain or fever.

Immediate medical attention is required if the appearance of rashes is associated with shortness of breath, tightness in throat or the face appears to be swollen. 

The treatment of conditions such as atopic dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, nummular dermatitis and perioral dermatitis involves administration of tablets, lotions or medicated ointments that contain antibiotics, antifungal medications or antiinflammatory medications.1–3

Complications of Dermatitis

Simple dermatitis is not associated with any complications while chronic dermatitis may be associated with complications such infection of the affected areas and permanent scarring. Certain allergic reactions may be life-threatening at times.


Prevention for Dermatitis

Avoidance of any particular product or other substances that are associated with allergy is beneficial. Repeated bathing in a single day can make the skin dry and hence should be avoided. Use of mild soaps that do not leave the skin excessively dry after bathing should be used. Moisturizing lotions may be applied if the skin tends to be dry after washing or bathing.

Written by: Healthplus24 team
Date last updated: October 30, 2012

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