Treating Contact Dermatitis

Just about every individual has had the pleasure of experiencing contact dermatitis. This skin disorder is an inflammation of the outer layer of your skin due to contact with an agent which you are allergic to or is just plain irritating to your skin. The severity ranges from person to person as we are all made up differently and have different sensitivities. Symptoms run the gauntlet from very mild and down right annoying all the way up to complete inflammation with redness, itching, edema and possible pustule formation. The majority of cases involve exposed skin since this is the area that has no protection.

Irritant contact dermatitis is the most common form of this disorder with a prevalence up to 80% of all cases. Obnoxious chemical agents are the "usual suspects". Things like detergents, soaps, dyes and good old-fashioned household cleaning products have all been implicated as irritants to your skin. For people working in industry, the entire myriad of chemicals found in the workplace can also be included as suspects.

Allergic contact dermatitis makes up the remainder of cases and is the result of a true allergy to something in the environment. A good example would be exposure to poison ivy. Other examples include allergies to just about anything you can touch such as specific clothing material or specific metals found in jewelry. Also included here are personal hygiene products and cosmetics.

As a practicing pharmacist, many patients come to see me with their contact dermatitis, simply because I am easier to get to than their personal physician. At that point, a little bit of counseling takes place to determine the cause and the proper treatment regimen. As most cases are self-limiting, an over the counter product is all that is necessary to bring relief and a speedy recovery. If I feel the case is of a more severe nature, I will recommend that the patient make an appointment to see their doctor.

Over the counter products used for treating contact dermatitis include internal as well external antihistamines to relieve itching and swelling, hydrocortisone creams and ointments for the inflammation and redness, and pain killers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen if indicated. Rounding out the pack, we sometimes use astringents such as witch hazel and burrows solution and an ingredient such as colloidal oatmeal which when added to bath water, will bring soothing relief.

More severe contact dermatitis cases and situations involving very young patients should always be referred to their physician. Doctors have a wide selection of prescription products that they can choose from, depending on how aggressive they want to treat the situation. For the most part, it includes stronger variations of everything found over the counter. Additionally, they sometimes add an antibiotic to the mix when the contact dermatitis has resulted in broken skin which could welcome an opportunistic infection.

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