What is dermatitis?
Dermatitis is a general term for skin inflammation. The skin will typically
appear dry, swollen, and red. The condition can have many causes, but it’s not
Dermatitis can be uncomfortable for some. How itchy your skin may feel can
range from mild to severe. Certain types of dermatitis can last a long time, while
others may flare up, depending on the season, exposures, or stress. Some types
are more common in children, and others are more common in adults. You may find
relief from dermatitis with medications and topical creams.
Contact your doctor for an appointment if your skin is infected, painful, or
uncomfortable, or if your dermatitis is widespread or isn’t getting better.
What are the
symptoms of dermatitis?
The symptoms of dermatitis range from mild to severe and will look different
depending on what part of the body is affected. Not all people with dermatitis
experience all symptoms.
In general, the symptoms of dermatitis may include:
- dry, cracked skin
- itchy skin
- painful skin, with stinging or burning
Types of dermatitis
Here are the most common types of dermatitis:
- Atopic dermatitis, or eczema,
is usually inherited and develops during infancy. Someone with eczema likely
has rough patches of dry, itchy skin.
- Contact dermatitis occurs when a
substance touches your skin and causes an allergic reaction or irritation. These
reactions can develop further into rashes that burn, sting, itch, or blister.
- In dyshidrotic dermatitis, the skin can’t
protect itself, resulting in itchy, dry skin, often with small blisters. This occurs
mainly on the feet and hands.
- Seborrheic dermatitis, also known as cradle cap
in babies, is most common on the scalp. It can cause scaly patches, red skin,
and dandruff, and it can also occur on other areas of the skin, such as the
face or chest.
Other types of dermatitis include the following:
- Neurodermatitis involves an itchy patch often
triggered by stress or something irritating the skin.
- Nummular dermatitis involves oval sores on the
skin and often occurs after injury to the skin.
- Stasis dermatitis involves skin changes due to
poor blood circulation.
The causes of dermatitis vary depending on the type of dermatitis:
- Contact dermatitis occurs when you come in
direct contact with an irritant or allergen. Common things that cause allergic
reactions include detergents, cosmetics, nickel, poison ivy, and oak.
- Eczema is caused by a combination of factors
like dry skin, environmental setting, and bacteria on the skin. It’s often
genetic, as people with eczema often have a family history of eczema, allergies,
- Seborrheic dermatitis is likely caused by a
fungus in the oil glands. It tends to get worse in the spring and winter. This
type of dermatitis also appears to be genetic for some people.
- Stasis dermatitis occurs due to poor circulation
in the body, most commonly the lower legs and feet.
Certain things can trigger dermatitis and cause symptoms to flare, such as
- hormonal changes
- the environment
- irritating substances
Some types, such as dyshidrotic eczema, neurodermatitis, and nummular
dermatitis may have unknown causes.
are the risk factors for dermatitis?
Factors that increase your chances of getting dermatitis include:
- the environment
- a family history of dermatitis
- health conditions
Some factors increase your risk for certain types of dermatitis more than
others. For example, frequent washing and drying of hands will strip your
skin’s protective oils and change its pH balance. This is why healthcare
workers typically have hand dermatitis.
How is dermatitis diagnosed?
Your doctor will perform a physical exam and discuss your medical history
before making a diagnosis. In some cases, a dermatologist can diagnose the type
of dermatitis just by looking at the skin.
If there’s reason to suspect you might have an allergic reaction to
something, your doctor might do a skin patch test. You can also ask for one
yourself. In a skin patch test, your doctor will put small amounts of different
substances on your skin. After a few days, they’ll check for reactions and
determine what you may or may not be allergic to.
In some cases, your dermatologist may perform a skin biopsy to help
determine the cause. A skin biopsy involves your doctor removing a small sample
of the skin which is then looked at under a microscope. They can perform other
tests on the sample to help determine the cause of your eczema.
is dermatitis treated?
Treatments for dermatitis depend on the type, severity of symptoms, and the
cause. Your skin may clear up on its own after one to three weeks. If it
doesn’t, your doctor or dermatologist may recommend:
- medications to reduce allergies and itching, such
as the antihistamine diphenhydramine
- phototherapy, or exposing affected areas to
controlled amounts of light
- topical creams with a steroid like
hydrocortisone to relieve itchiness and inflammation
- creams or lotions for dry skin
- oatmeal baths to relieve itching
Antibiotics or antifungal medications are usually given only if an infection
has developed. Infections can occur when the skin is broken due to intense
Home care for dermatitis may include applying cool, wet cloths to the skin
to reduce itching and discomfort. You can try adding baking soda to a cool bath
to help reduce symptoms. If your skin is broken, you can cover the wound with a
dressing or bandage to prevent irritation or infection.
Dermatitis can sometimes flare up when you’re stressed. You may want to look
into alternative therapies like acupuncture, massage, and yoga to reduce
Taking dietary supplements, such as vitamin D and probiotics, may help you
manage the symptoms of eczema, according to the Mayo
is the outlook for people with dermatitis?
While dermatitis isn’t considered a serious medical condition, excessive
scratching can lead to open sores and infections. These can spread, but they
rarely become life-threatening.
You can prevent or control potential flare-ups with treatment. You may find
the most relief in sticking to the treatments your doctor has prescribed.
is dermatitis prevented?
Awareness is the first step in avoiding dermatitis. You’ll want to avoid
contact with allergens or substances that cause rashes, such as poison ivy. But
if you have eczema, which isn’t always preventable, your best option is to
prevent a flare-up of symptoms. You’ll want to avoid scratching the affected
area. Scratching can open or reopen wounds and spread the bacteria to another
part of your body.
Another way to prevent excess dry skin is by taking shorter baths, using
mild soaps, and using warm instead of hot water. Most people also find relief
by moisturizing frequently. The Washington
Department of Labor and Industries recommends using water-based
moisturizers after washing hands and oil-based moisturizers for extremely dry