IT started with a small patch of rashes on Elena’s right arm. The next morning however, it had gotten worse and the calamine lotion she applied had not helped at all.
The doctor diagnosed the rash as dermatitis, commonly known as eczema, which is a general term for inflammation of the skin, characterised by redness, pain, and itchiness.
Elena had started using a new body lotion and it turned out that she was reacting badly to lanolin, a wool derivative often found in moisturisers, and sometimes in soaps, cosmetics and topical medications.
Contact dermatitis is caused by an allergic reaction or irritation to a substance that touches your skin. Even when the quantity and concentration of the substance is low, contact can result in a reaction. Common examples are perfumes and lanolin.
Some people, for instance, develop rashes on their earlobes when wearing earrings with nickel. Instead of limiting your choice of earrings, you could get your jeweller to coat exposed surfaces with a lacquer, plastic, or other nickel-free product. A cheaper alternative would be to apply several layers of clear nail polish on nickel-containing jewellery (if you are not allergic to nail polish).
Other common allergens are rubber, nickel, chromium and hair dyes.
Allergies can be determined by conducting a patch test on the skin. Small amounts of possible allergens are applied; the sites are then checked in two days and then again in four days to see whether the skin has reacted to their presence.
Irritants, on the other hand, are substances that cause a reaction on almost anyone’s skin when used in high enough concentration. It can develop seemingly overnight and substances that you have used with no problem before may suddenly begin to irritate your skin. Once dermatitis sets in, your skin may become even more sensitive.
Common irritants that can cause contact dermatitis include soaps, detergents, solvents, chemicals. Sometimes, even over-exposure to water can cause dermatitis.
The first step in treating contact dermatitis is to find out its cause, and avoid it. Do not wash the affected area with soap. Instead, use a mild water-soluble cleanser, dry well and then apply moisturising lotion.
Wear gloves when touching irritants such as cleaning detergents, or apply a barrier cream for protection. Ask your doctor to recommend a lotion with fluorosilicone, a substance that leaves a protective film over the skin, which can repel irritants. The lotion does not cause discomfort as it allows your skin to breath. Some people continue to use such barrier creams even after their dermatitis has cleared to protect their hands, and prevent a recurrence.
Topical corticosteroids can be applied to relieve inflammation. If over-the-counter products fail, see a dermatologist.
Atopic dermatitis is a chronic skin inflammation in people with an inherited tendency towards allergies. Usually, other family members have similar skin diseases, and other allergy-related problems such as hay fever, hives and asthma.
It often appears as a scaly, itchy skin rash in the folds of elbows and knees, and sometimes on the ankles, wrists, face, neck, or upper chest. Sometimes called infantile eczema as it is most common during childhood, the good news is, the condition may improve after childhood. Even though some people suffer recurrent dermatitis throughout their lives, the problem tends to be less severe.
Treatments for atopic dermatitis include applying corticosteroid preparations or tar creams to reduce the inflammation. Dermatologists may also prescribe oral antihistamines to control itching or oral antibiotics to kill the bacteria that causes allergic reactions aggravating the itchy, inflamed flesh.
Sometimes, the skin becomes so dry it actually gets inflamed, red and itchy. Avoid taking hot showers as it strips oil from the skin. When you’re using harsh substances such as detergents and other cleaning agents, wear gloves, or apply a lotion with fluorosilicone.
Dry your skin after using a mild water-soluble cleanser and immediately apply a mild lotion. If this does not clear the problem, the doctor might prescribe a corticosteroid ointment to reduce the inflammation.