Dermatitis is a general term to refer to any kind of skin irritation or rash. Different types of dermatitis ointment are needed depending on the severity and cause of the rash. A mild allergic reaction may only require an emollient type of ointment, while more severe or chronic rashes often need treatment with anti-histamine or steroid ointments. If the dermatitis progresses to an infection, an antibiotic ointment may be used.
An emollient ointment, cream, or lotion is often all that's needed to soothe and promote healing of a mild rash. Some rashes may be caused by irritation from dry skin. An emollient is any type of oil that moisturizes and hydrates the skin. A dermatitis ointment may contain other ingredients, such as oatmeal, calendula, or aloe, which help relieve any itching and support healthy healing of irritated skin.
Skin rashes and irritations from allergies are called contact dermatitis because contact with an allergen, such as a food, an animal, or plants such as poison ivy and poison oak, causes the rash. Some types of contact dermatitis can be spread by touching other parts of the body after touching the rash. Medicinal ointments for skin allergies often contain anti-histamines, which help reduce the discomfort of swelling and itching associated with allergies.
Chronic types of rashes, such as those caused by eczema or psoriasis, can be treated with emollients or anti-histamines when the irritation is not very severe. If chronic dermatitis or a rash from contact allergies becomes very severe, a dermatitis ointment containing topical steroids may be used. Steroids help reduce itching, swelling, and inflammation and can shorten the duration of the outbreak.
Steroid ointments with low doses of medicine, usually hydrocortisone, are available over the counter, while stronger doses can only be bought with a prescription. In general, topical steroids are only used for short periods of time because of the risk of permanent skin damage. If a dermatitis ointment containing steroids is used for longer periods or on larger areas of skin, there is a risk of the medication being absorbed into the bloodstream and causing growth problems in children, glandular disorders such as Cushing's syndrome, or high blood pressure.
Many types of dermatitis cause itching, which can be quite severe and uncomfortable. Scratching a rash can worsen it or cause it to spread. Scratching can also break the skin and cause infections, characterized by yellow pus and increased irritation. If dermatitis becomes infected, an antibiotic dermatitis ointment may be prescribed. Oral antibiotics may also be used to treat more serious infections.