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Allergic Contact Dermatitis - Definition, Causes, Symptoms and Treatment


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Allergic contact dermatitis is an itchy skin condition. It is caused by your body's reaction to something that directly contacts the skin. Many different substances can cause allergic contact dermatitis, which are called 'allergens'. It arises some hours after contact with the responsible material, and settles down over some days providing the skin is no longer in contact with it. The allergic reaction to latex is the best known example of allergic contact urticaria. Irritant contact dermatitis may affect anyone, providing they have had enough exposure to the irritant, but those with atopic dermatitis are particularly sensitive. Most cases of hand dermatitis are due to contact with irritants. Allergic contact dermatitis is not usually caused by things like acid, alkali, solvent, strong soap or detergent. These harsh compounds, which can produce a reaction on anyone's skin, are known as 'irritants'. The dermatitis usually shows redness, swelling and water blisters, from tiny to large.

Allergic contact dermatitis occurs more commonly in adults. The most common types of allergic contact dermatitis are allergy to poison ivy and poison oak. The most common factors contributing to the development of allergic contact dermatitis are pre-existing skin conditions such as irritant contact dermatitis. The allergic contact dermatitis rash develops within 12 to 48 hours of reexposure to the antigen and lasts for 3 to 4 weeks. Treatment for allergic contact dermatitis usually involves using a topical corticosteroid cream and an oral antihistamine. A podiatrist can recommend manufacturers of hypoallergenic shoes that do not cause allergic reactions. Symptoms that are commonly seen include the following: redness, swelling, blistering, itching, and weeping. The allergen can be a substance in a product that you have used for many years; it does not have to be a new product.

Causes of Allergic contact dermatitis

Common causes for allergic contact dermatitis of the foot and ankle are exposure to poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac, and exposure to dyes used in shoes and sneakers. Many different substances can cause allergic contact dermatitis, which are called 'allergens'. Allergic contact dermatitis often develops when a person buys a new pair of shoes. Dye and other allergens are present in high concentrations in new shoes and are most likely to cause a reaction. The same reaction can occur with leather shoes, which also contains dye that can cause an allergic reaction.

Common causes and risk factors of Allergic contact dermatitis:

  • Pre-existing skin conditions such as irritant contact dermatitis.
  • Environmental factors.
  • Cuts or scratches, into which allergenic substances can enter.
  • The resistance of the skin.

Signs and Symptoms of Allergic contact dermatitis

The symptoms of contact dermatitis can range from a mild, itchy rash to severe itching, swelling, and blistering. In severe cases, open sores can result in bacterial skin infections. The most severe reaction is at the contact site. The symptoms of contact dermatitis may resemble other skin conditions. An allergy to laundry detergent may cause symptoms that are limited to areas of the body covered by clothing. An allergy to tanning chemicals in leather will affect parts of the feet covered by shoes.

Sign and symptoms may include the following :

  • Localized swelling of the skin.
  • A few patches of dry, slightly inflamed skin that become thickened with time.
  • Itching of the skin in exposed areas.
  • Tenderness of the skin in the exposed area.
  • Warmth of the exposed area.

Treatment for Allergic contact dermatitis

Treatment for allergic contact dermatitis usually involves using a topical corticosteroid cream and an oral antihistamine. In severe cases, systemic methods such as oral and injectable corticosterioids, antibiotics, and other anti-inflammatory and immunologic agents may be necessary. Topical corticosteroid medications may reduce inflammation. Carefully adhere to instructions when using topical steroids because overuse of these medications, even low-strength over-the-counter topical steroids, may cause a troublesome skin condition.

Treatment may include:

  • Initial treatment includes thorough washing with lots of water to remove any trace of the irritant that may remain on the skin.
  • Topical corticosteroid medications may reduce inflammation.
  • In severe cases, systemic corticosteroids may be needed to reduce inflammation.
  • Wet dressings and soothing, antipruritic (anti-itch), or drying lotions may be recommended to reduce other symptoms.
  • In some cases, the best treatment is to do nothing to the area