Dermatitis – A Common and Treatable Condition

Dermatitis can be uncomfortable, but it is a common and treatable condition. Itchy patches of skin can ooze, weep clear fluid or bleed when scratched. Scratching can also break the skin and lead to infection.


Try to avoid known irritants or allergens, and moisturize your skin with fragrance-free products. You may also want to add ground oatmeal or baking soda to your lukewarm bath for itching relief.

What Causes Dermatitis?

Dermatitis can be very uncomfortable, painful and embarrassing. Itchy rashes, blisters that ooze and red, dry and flaky skin can make you feel self-conscious and limit your activities. The good news is that it’s not contagious. It’s not caused by a disease, but by your immune system reacting to an irritant or allergen that triggers inflammation in the skin.

The most common types of dermatitis are contact dermatitis (from chemicals or irritants) and atopic dermatitis (eczema). Atopic dermatitis usually appears as a scaly, itchy rash on the face, but can occur anywhere on the body. Contact dermatitis can be from substances such as poison ivy, detergents or perfumes, or it may result from a sensitivity to certain metals (like nickel) or other materials like wool.

Atopic dermatitis can last a long time, and you may experience flare-ups and periods of no symptoms. Other types of dermatitis can happen at any age, and include cradle cap in babies and diaper rash in infants; contact dermatitis from abrasive soap or jewelry; and irritants such as sun exposure or heat. People with a family history of allergies, hay fever or asthma are more likely to develop dermatitis.

When you visit your healthcare provider, he or she will look at your skin to check for classic signs of dermatitis including a rash, itching and redness. Your provider will also ask you about your lifestyle and any other medical conditions that you have.


Dermatitis causes itchy, swollen and red patches of skin. The symptoms vary depending on the type of dermatitis you have. You may have periods of time when your rash is worse, called flares, followed by times when your rash improves or goes away completely, called remissions. Some types of dermatitis are more common in children, but people of any age can have them.

Contact dermatitis can be caused by an allergic reaction to something that irritates the skin, such as poison ivy or other plants, perfumes, soaps, detergents and jewelry with nickel. Health conditions that cause your immune system to react in a way that makes the skin more sensitive, such as hay fever or asthma, can also increase your risk of developing contact dermatitis.

Seborrheic dermatitis is a skin condition that produces a rash of small, raised bumps. It mainly affects the scalp and face, but can also appear on the chest, arms and legs. It often resembles dandruff, but it can be more severe. It can be caused by yeast, stress and certain medications, including antidepressants and antipsychotics.

Neurodermatitis causes a very itchy rash on the hands, feet and genitals. It can lead to a blister-like appearance on the skin, or it can be a very red or purple rash with bumps. In some cases, it can cause your skin color to change (post-inflammatory hyperpigmentation or hypopigmentation). It mainly affects people with dark complexions, but anyone can get this type of dermatitis.


Dermatitis symptoms can be hard to pinpoint, especially because they can come and go. In addition, some types of dermatitis cause itching and pain to change based on season, stress levels, or exposure to certain irritants, making diagnosis even more difficult. For these reasons, it is important to see a doctor as soon as you have suspected dermatitis.

Your doctor will talk with you about your symptoms, examine your skin and review your medical history. He or she may also recommend patch testing, in which small amounts of different substances are applied to the skin and covered for a few days so your doctor can look for signs of reaction. Other tests may be done to help determine what is causing your dermatitis, such as bloodwork or allergy testing.

Almost everyone has experienced a type of dermatitis at some point in their lives. It is not contagious, but if left untreated it can lead to infection and can have a negative impact on your quality of life. The good news is that with the right treatment, you can enjoy your favorite activities and get a good night’s sleep without any itching or irritation. With a little know-how, you can also reduce the likelihood of recurrence and keep your symptoms under control. Keeping your hands, feet and scalp clean and dry can help prevent dermatitis, as can staying hydrated.


The treatment options depend on the type and severity of symptoms. For example, if you have contact dermatitis — which occurs when your skin comes into direct contact with something that irritates it or triggers an allergic reaction — the condition will improve if you avoid the substance that causes it. For atopic dermatitis (eczema), medications can reduce inflammation and itching and help control your symptoms.

If you have a particular allergy to something, like nickel, perfume or hair dye, your doctor may do a patch test to identify it. For other types of dermatitis, such as neurodermatitis (which results in itchy patches on the hands or feet) and stasis dermatitis (in which the skin changes due to poor blood circulation), your doctor will need more information to make a diagnosis. They will ask you about your activities and your medical history and examine the affected area of your skin. They might also do a blood test to see whether the rash has an underlying cause, such as a viral illness or a bacterial infection.

Besides avoiding irritants and allergens, you can keep your dermatitis under control by reapplying moisturizer often, especially after bathing. You can also use emollients, such as cocoa butter and jojoba oil, to help add moisture to the skin. In addition, using a moisturizing bath oil can help soothe the skin and relieve itching. If you develop an infection, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics. Fungal infections can be treated with antifungal drugs, and viral infections can be treated with medications that kill herpes viruses (like acyclovir).