Introduction to Dermatitis
Dermatitis means inflammation of the skin.
What is Dermatitis?
Dermatitis means inflammation of the skin. There many different types of dermatitis, the most common being contact dermatitis, which is caused by the skin coming into contact with an allergen and atopic dermatitis, more commonly known as eczema. Some less common types of dermatitis are xerotic dermatitis, which is caused by severely dried skin and seborrhoeic dermatitis, which is similar to dandruff.
What causes Dermatitis?
The main cause of contact dermatitis is some sort of allergen. Common allergens are things like make-up, jewellery, soaps, perfumes, plants, and many solvents. Dermatitis can also be caused if you work in an industry that exposes you to certain chemicals.
It is thought that eczema is caused by something called the hygiene hypothesis. This is the theory that in our modern era we are cleaner and are less exposed to allergens and hence are less likely to tolerate them. There may also be a genetic link to developing eczema, and you are more likely to get the condition if you have close family members with eczema.
What are the symptoms of Dermatitis?
In contact dermatitis, the areas of skin that are directly exposed to a particular allergen become red, inflamed, blistered, dry, and cracked. This can develop on any part of the body, but the hands and face are most commonly affected. People with eczema tend to have very dry, scaly, itchy skin. The skin then tends to crack, weep and crust over in a scab. Eczema is most common on the hands, elbows and trunk.
How is Dermatitis treated?
The best way to treat contact dermatitis is to avoid the allergen that is causing it. It may not be possible to completely avoid the allergen, in this case you should speak to a doctor about ways you can minimise your contact, for example wearing protective clothing at work.
For all types of dermatitis you can use a moisturising treatment called an emollient that helps to reduce moisture loss and create a protective film over the skin. Emollients can be used in the form of ointments, creams, soaps and shower gels. If your skin is very sore and inflamed you may be prescribed a topical steroid that will help to reduce the inflammation.
Other treatments include taking steroid tablets, ultra-violet light therapy and immunosuppressant drugs that reduce inflammation by subduing your immune system. Many people may also wish to use complementary treatments such as food supplements, herbal medicine or acupuncture.