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Dermatitis is a general term for any non-contagious condition that causes skin inflammation
Anyone can get dermatitis, although children are more susceptible to some forms of dermatitis and adults are more likely to experience other types. It is not contagious and therefore cannot be spread from person to person. Symptoms of dermatitis can include red rashes, swelling, itching or dry skin.
Common examples include contact dermatitis, atopic eczema and seborrheic dermatitis (dandruff).
Your GP or dermatologist can help you manage and treat the symptoms of dermatitis.
Dermatitis is commonly referred to as eczema
The terms ‘dermatitis’ and ‘eczema’ are often used interchangeably, but there are important differences between a condition like contact dermatitis, which is triggered by contact with an irritant or allergic substance, and atopic eczema, which is a long-term condition that runs in families.
Although it’s not life-threatening, dermatitis can be extremely uncomfortable and can cause embarrassment or emotional distress.
Common symptoms include:
Someone with dermatitis might experience itching, pain, discomfort or burning sensations.
There is overlap among the different types of dermatitis, and you can have more than one type at the same time.
If you are experiencing symptoms of dermatitis, it’s important to see a doctor to help you identify the type of dermatitis and the appropriate treatment.
"You should treat eczema as soon as it appears. If you leave it for very long trying to avoid putting treatments off, what happens is that you end up struggling to control it and having to use more treatments to achieve the same result that you would have if you started treating it at the beginning."
Symptoms of a contact dermatitis rash can be redness, swelling, oozing, painful blisters, hives, itchiness, burning or stinging.
Because contact dermatitis is caused by exposure to some substance, it can affect any part of the body, including the hands, face, neck, feet or groin area. This means contact dermatitis is sometimes diagnosed as hand eczema, eyelid dermatitis or genital dermatitis.
There are two types of contact dermatitis — irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis.
Irritant contact dermatitis is the most common type of contact dermatitis.
It happens when you develop symptoms as a result of exposure to common irritants in the environment. Symptoms can appear within minutes of exposure or up to 48 hours after. You can experience symptoms after just one exposure, whilst other times it takes repeated exposure to the irritant to cause a reaction.
There are many potential triggers for irritant contact dermatitis. Often, everyday substances that come into contact with our skin can cause symptoms. This means that it can be difficult to identify which substance is responsible for your symptoms.
Common irritants include:
Your symptoms could be made worse by exposure to heat, cold, friction and dry air.
“Because of the excessive —compared to the past — handwashing, there has been a huge increase in irritant hand dermatitis,” says Dr Martin-Clavijo.
He continues, “That’s why it’s so important to look after your hands. Whenever you can, try to use a soap substitute instead of soap and try to apply moisturisers. And for the hands, the trick is to use moisturisers in very little amounts, very often. For the rest of the body, we normally ask you to lather up, put on lots of moisturiser, but for the hands, it’s little and often.”
Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when the body is repeatedly exposed to a substance that it develops a specific allergic reaction to. It can take anywhere from days to months or even years for the body's immune system to develop an allergic reaction.
Common allergens include:
If you suspect that you have allergic contact dermatitis, you should see a dermatologist for patch testing.
A dermatologist can help you treat your contact dermatitis by identifying the cause of the reaction, treating the symptoms of your skin inflammation and helping you avoid the triggers.
Even with treatment, it can take several weeks for your symptoms to go away. The longer you have a rash caused by contact dermatitis, the more difficult it is to treat it.
Therefore, it’s important to see a dermatologist as soon as possible, so you can identify the cause and start a treatment plan.
Atopic eczema affects 1 in 10 adults in the UK and 1 in 5 children.
It commonly appears in childhood, but it can appear in later life as well. There is no cure, but symptoms generally come and go in episodes called ‘flare-ups’. Although uncomfortable, atopic eczema can be managed and treated.
The term ‘atopic’ refers to a tendency to be sensitive to allergens. Atopic eczema runs in families along with hay fever, asthma and food allergies. This means you are at more risk of developing atopic eczema if you or someone in your immediate family has a history of one of these conditions.
Individuals with atopic eczema are also susceptible to other forms of dermatitis, including contact dermatitis.
It is not known exactly what causes atopic eczema. However, we do know that it’s likely caused by a number of factors. Genetics plays an important role, as does your environment.
Common environmental factors that can trigger your eczema might include:
It can be helpful to keep track of these triggers when you are experiencing an eczema flare-up. You might be able to pinpoint what triggers your eczema and what makes it worse so that you can avoid potential irritants, allergens or other triggers.
Although there is no cure for atopic eczema, treatment can help prevent flare-ups and soothe symptoms. With eczema, self-care and daily moisturisation are the first lines of defence.
You should keep your skin moisturised with the use of emollients or medical-grade moisturisers. This can include lotions, creams, ointments, gels or sprays. Your GP or pharmacist can help you choose the right products depending on the severity of your symptoms and the location of your eczema. You should use emollients often, even when you are not experiencing a flare-up.
For skin that is inflamed and sore, you can use a topical steroid, also referred to as a topical corticosteroid. These are prescribed by your GP or dermatologist for short-term use to heal the skin and help bring the eczema flare-up under control.
For most people with atopic eczema, an effective treatment plan includes avoiding known triggers, the daily use of emollients and topical medications.
Although you may hope for a quick cure for your eczema, it’s important to take a longer-term view of your skin health, explains Dr Martin-Clavijo. “What people should be thinking is not about ways to treat eczema quickly, but ways to treat eczema correctly. We always try to look for the long-term fix”.
It can be difficult to avoid scratching dry, sore or itchy skin. However, excessive scratching can further damage cracked skin and increase the risk of bacterial or viral infections. If you suspect an infection, you should seek medical attention.
Bothersome itching can lead to poor sleep. Furthermore, a chronic skin condition can also cause psychological distress and lack of confidence. Children and adults with atopic eczema or other forms of dermatitis may feel self-conscious about their appearance.
This can lead to social isolation, frustration, sadness and depression. If you feel like dermatitis is negatively impacting your sleep, emotional health or quality of life, get in touch with one of our mental health support professionals.
Some common treatments for dermatitis may include one or more of the following:
Your GP or pharmacist will be able to help you choose the most appropriate treatment for you and your dermatitis.
It’s often easier and more effective to work on creating an environment free from environmental triggers and emotional triggers like stress than it is to treat a flare-up.
Whilst it’s impossible to completely control your environment and eliminate potential triggers, there are many things you can do to avoid common irritants.
Some helpful prevention methods can include:
According to consultant dermatologist Dr Martin-Clavijo, “You can certainly do a lot of things to make eczema bad very quickly. So if you don't moisturise, if you don't stop using your shower gel when you have eczema or if you stop using your treatments, then that is a recipe for your eczema flaring up very quickly.”
There is a well-documented link between stress and dermatitis, particularly atopic eczema.
Stress and anxiety can worsen your symptoms by increasing inflammation and hindering the skin’s ability to repair. It can become even more difficult to control your mood when you are tired from lack of sleep due to itching.
When it comes to living with dermatitis, relaxation and self-care are as important as treatment. A good exercise regimen, healthy diet and techniques for dealing with daily stress are important tools in preventing a flare-up.
For very dry skin prone to dermatitis, it’s important to maintain a good skincare routine.
This includes the following healthy skincare practices:
Working with a dermatologist can help you to build a specific regimen for your skin.
A dermatologist will be able to help you diagnose your dermatitis and determine the cause and triggers. If necessary, they can offer you patch testing to pinpoint what allergens might affect you.
A dermatologist can offer advanced techniques for dealing with all types of dermatitis and help you come up with a personalised treatment plan. This might include phototherapy, topical calcineurin inhibitors, stronger topical corticosteroids and additional medications for severe eczema (alitretinoin, dupilumab and baricitinib).
This will help your dermatologist to find the best treatment for you. Although it’s very common, dermatitis is irritating and painful. It can also cause significant emotional distress and lack of confidence.
Seeking treatment from a dermatologist as soon as possible can help you identify your triggers, treat your symptoms, and make a long-term treatment plan for control.
Book an appointment with one of our dermatologists today.
If you want to know more about treatment for dermatitis, book your appointment online today or call a member of our team directly on 0141 300 5009.
NHS, Atopic Eczema: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/atopic-eczema/
Eczema.org, Types of Eczema: https://eczema.org/information-and-advice/types-of-eczema/
Eczema.org, Perioral Dermatitis: https://eczema.org/information-and-advice/types-of-eczema/contact-dermatitis/
Celiac.org, Dermatitis Herpetiformis: https://celiac.org/about-celiac-disease/related-conditions/dermatitis-herpetiformis/
Eczema.org, Scalp Eczema: https://eczema.org/information-and-advice/types-of-eczema/scalp-eczema/#how-is-scalp
National Eczema.org, Eczema and Emotional Wellness: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema-emotional-wellness/