What is Allergic Dermatitis?

Mary McMahon

Allergic dermatitis is skin inflammation caused by exposure to an allergen. This skin condition is very common. There are numerous treatments which can be used to address allergic dermatitis. Usually care for this condition is supervised by a dermatologist, a doctor who specializes in the identification and treatment of skin disorders. It is recommended to receive treatment both because there is no reason to allow skin irritation to persist without treatment when it can be managed and because sometimes allergic dermatitis is accompanied with complications which could become medical issues.

Laundry soap can cause allergic dermatitis.
Laundry soap can cause allergic dermatitis.

In allergic contact dermatitis, the skin reacts directly to something it comes in contact with. For example, someone with an allergy to wool who wears wool garments could experience a breakout of allergic dermatitis in areas where the skin came into contact with the wool. Likewise, people can also sometimes develop dermatitis when they ingest an allergen as a result of a prolonged immune reaction.

Poison ivy, which causes allergic dermatitis.
Poison ivy, which causes allergic dermatitis.

Dermatitis occurs when the immune system mistakenly thinks that something is a threat and it reacts to neutralize it. The reaction causes inflammation, which leads to itching, redness, and swelling. The patient may also experience pain, especially if the dermatitis is chronic, and sometimes the skin can crack and ulcerate. The area of the breakout can be extremely uncomfortable, especially if it is trapped under the bands of a garment.

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Many conditions can look like allergic dermatitis, and a dermatologist may be needed to examine the site and run diagnostic tests to confirm that an allergic reaction is occurring. Once allergic dermatitis is identified, the doctor can start to narrow down possible allergens. Challenge tests in which the patient is exposed to known allergens may be used.

One way to deal with allergic dermatitis is to avoid exposure to the allergens in question. If, for example, someone develops contact dermatitis after handling a certain food, that food can be avoided in the future. Medications can also be prescribed so that immune reactions will not be so strong, allowing people to be around allergens without necessarily experiencing a severe reaction. For ongoing outbreaks, skin creams can be prescribed to reduce the inflammation and itching and make the patient feel more comfortable.

Patients with a history of allergic dermatitis should make sure that it is noted in their charts. Skin allergies to things like latex and cornstarch are especially important to record because people providing medical care may need to take special steps to avoid triggering allergies.

Rashes may be the result of an allergic reaction.
Rashes may be the result of an allergic reaction.

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Discussion Comments


I thought I had allergic dermatitis symptoms but it turned out to be psoriasis. I guess the two look similar. The doctor said that the difference is that psoriasis causes red patches. It also tends to concentrate around joints. Allergic dermatitis apparently doesn't cause patches, but rather bumps.


@alisha-- Contact allergic dermatitis tends to pop up suddenly. No one really knows why, it might be due to a weakening of the immune system. But I'm glad you found the problem and took action.


I developed an allergic dermatitis rash a few months ago. It literally happened overnight and I was very sad because I had never experienced something like this before. My palms were red with white scales all over. It kind of looked like my skin was peeling.

I thought that my skin was just dry at first, so I applied a ton of moisturized but nothing changed. Then, a friend of mine said that it might be an egg allergy because she had experienced something similar. So I quit eating eggs, but nothing changed.

Finally, I decided to stop using detergents for a while. I switched to natural, dye and perfume free hand soap and body wash. I started using gloves while washing dishes and I did not touch laundry detergent at all. In a few days, my dermatitis vanished. I think the culprit was my liquid hand soap. The weird part is that I've been using liquid hand soap for years. I have no idea why it's giving me problems now.

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