What’s Making You Itch?

Photo of a man's hands with itchy rash, demonstrating contact dermatitis. See Chicago dermatologist Dr. Nilam Amin for solutions.

Many of my patients come in for appointments because they have rashes with itching they can’t get under control. Do you have an allergy to something you came in contact with or is it irritant contact dermatitis? Let’s look at the differences:

What is contact dermatitis?

Dermatitis is the medical term for skin irritation. It’s an inflammation of your skin’s surface. Contact dermatitis symptoms include some or all the following:

  • Red rash, bumps or a burn-like rash on the skin
  • Itchy, painful or burning skin
  • Blisters and draining fluid

Types of contact dermatitis

The main types of contact dermatitis are:

  • Allergic contact dermatitis is when your body has an allergic reaction to a substance it doesn’t like. Common causes of allergic contact dermatitis include perfumes, chemicals in cosmetics and skin care products, metals, jewelry made from nickel or gold, botanicals, preservatives, latex, as well as most commonly poison ivy and poison oak. The reaction may occur immediately, hours, or even several days after exposure. You may have dry scaly or flaky skin, hives, oozing blisters, redness, extreme itching, and even sun sensitivity.
  • Irritant contact dermatitis occurs more often than allergic contact dermatitis. You develop a rash when a chemical substance irritates the skin’s outer layers. This rash tends to come on quickly in response to an irritating substance. Common irritants include detergents, soap, cleaners and acids; alkalis like drain cleaners; certain plants such as poinsettias and peppers; hair dyes, nail polish remover or other solvents; paints and varnishes, resins, plastics and epoxies. The rash is more painful than it is itchy.
  • Photocontact dermatitis is much less common. It is a reaction that may occur when active ingredients in a skin product or on the skin are exposed to the sun and result in the dermatitis.

Treatment is available

Treating contact dermatitis requires a two-prong approach. We need to address the symptoms so you’ll be more comfortable and, ultimately, resolve the problem. It’s equally important to identify and then avoid the allergens or irritants causing the problem. This can involve carefully studying your environment to locate the allergens and/or irritants. Avoid what you can and/or wear protective clothing, as needed.

Here for your dermatological needs

If you are dealing with contact dermatitis, know that we’re here to help. Don’t suffer silently; instead talk with us. Please feel free to contact us to make an appointment.