What is dermatitis?

Dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin that can take several forms. The most common form is atopic dermatitis, seen most often in infants during the first year of life; this is sometimes referred to as eczema, dermatitis, or atopy. Atopic dermatitis most often manifests as itchy, dry scaly patches, usually on the cheeks, as well as on the scalp, forehead, and the rest of the face. In older children, the location of dermatitis shifts to the creases of the elbows and knees or other joint crevices. Atopic dermatitis usually afflicts children.

Two other forms of dermatitis are contact dermatitis (an inflammatory reaction to a specific substance) and seborrheic dermatitis (caused by overproduction of sebum or oils by the sebaceous glands). Seborrheic dermatitis, commonly called dandruff, is the most common form of dermatitis in adults. This article will focus on contact and atopic dermatitis.

Contact dermatitis usually resolves on its own without complications, but it may return if the triggering substances cannot be pinpointed and avoided. Atopic dermatitis can take longer to resolve, but there are effective treatments for it, and the disease is almost always manageable, if not curable, over time.

Contact dermatitis and atopic dermatitis are not life-threatening conditions. Follow treatment instructions and contact a medical professional with any concerns. In rare instances, dermatitis can be part of a very severe allergic reaction, or anaphylaxis, which is life threatening. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, develop symptoms of anaphylaxis, including difficulty breathing, difficulty swallowing, rapid heart rate (tachycardia), and rapid, marked swelling near the site.

Seek prompt medical care if you are being treated for dermatitis but mild symptoms recur or are persistent, or if you show signs of developing hives or a secondary bacterial infection.


What are the symptoms of dermatitis?

Symptoms of contact dermatitis and atopic dermatitis are similar. Contact dermatitis manifests as a red, scaly itchy rash anywhere on the skin that was exposed to the offending substance. In moderate to severe cases, you may also develop blisters filled with clear liquid. Some people develop hives, for which you should seek prompt medical care.

Dermatitis is seldom life threatenin... Read more about dermatitissymptoms


What causes dermatitis?

There are two major types of contact dermatitis: first, an allergic reaction to a common household or environmental substance, and, second, an inflammatory reaction to a harsh chemical irritant.

Causes of contact dermatitis

Substances that can cause contact dermatitis include:

  • Fabrics

How is dermatitis treated?

The first step in treating contact dermatitis is to wash the area with water to get rid of all traces of the irritant. Sometimes it is best to do nothing more because even low-strength, over-the-counter products can worsen the condition. You may be able to reduce your itching with wet dressings, drying lotions, or anti-itch (antipruritic) creams or lotions. In cases of inflammation, corticoster... Read more about dermatitistreatments

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Skin, Hair and Nails

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