What is Autoimmune Dermatitis?

Mary McMahon

Autoimmune dermatitis is skin irritation associated with immune dysfunction. In people with this condition, the skin develops rashes, blisters, papules, patches of dryness, and other issues because the immune system mistakenly identifies something in the skin as harmful and starts attacking it. There are several different forms, and patients with this condition usually need to be carefully evaluated to find out why their skin is reacting and develop an appropriate treatment plan for managing the skin irritation. Usually, an immune specialist is involved in diagnosis and treatment.

Untreated autoimmune dermatitis may cause cracked skin.
Untreated autoimmune dermatitis may cause cracked skin.

This condition can onset at any age and may be associated with disease and life events, or not, depending on the patient. People with autoimmune conditions sometimes develop dermatitis in association with their underlying conditions. Autoimmune dermatitis can be a sign that a condition is growing worse or not responding to treatment. It can start anywhere on the body and may spread over time. Patients often complain of itching and pain around the site of an outbreak. The inflammation can make the skin feel hot and dry as well.

Topical anti-inflammatory creams may help alleviate autoimmune dermatitis.
Topical anti-inflammatory creams may help alleviate autoimmune dermatitis.

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In other cases, autoimmune dermatitis shows up independently, with no previous history of autoimmune problems. People may develop it in response to allergies, with the body reacting to allergens found in and around the skin, or on its own. Additionally, some women experience a rare version known as autoimmune progesterone dermatitis, where skin flareups occur at various phases of the menstrual cycle in response to changing hormone levels in the body.

Some women experience autoimmune progesterone dermatitis.
Some women experience autoimmune progesterone dermatitis.

Immunosuppressive and anti-inflammatory drugs can be taken to treat autoimmune dermatitis. During an outbreak, soothing creams can be applied to keep the skin hydrated and as healthy as possible. Medications can help reduce the intensity of outbreaks, as well as making them less common. Taking these drugs in the long term may expose people to other risks like slowed healing time and an increased risk of infection because the body cannot respond as rapidly to harmful organisms.

Someone who has autoimmune dermatitis often experiences skin rashes.
Someone who has autoimmune dermatitis often experiences skin rashes.

Untreated autoimmune dermatitis can cause severe problems for the patient. Over time, the skin may undergo permanent changes, thickening and roughening in response to the sustained inflammation. In addition, it can crack and peel, creating an open sore. This sore may allow infectious organisms to enter the body and can cause an infection. Areas of outbreaks need to be kept clean and dry, and it is important to address outbreaks of dermatitis when they occur, to prevent complications associated with untreated skin irritation.

Specific symptoms of autoimmune dermatitis vary between women and cycles.
Specific symptoms of autoimmune dermatitis vary between women and cycles.
Itchiness often accompanies autoimmune dermatitis.
Itchiness often accompanies autoimmune dermatitis.

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Discussion Comments


I thought it was finally time to share my experience with my allergy to my own progesterone. Sites like this had affirmed what I had observed for myself. For about 3.5 years I had been having very frequent angioedema (swelling shut of throat), and having to use heavy antihistamines (four times what anyone else would take) and epipens. Anything could trigger an attack: perfumes, mildew, even cooking meals. This involved many visits to my allergist, sitting outside ER's while epipens took effect and a referral to a specialist in Boston.

In the last year and a half, I noticed by keeping a diary that exactly 24 to 48 hours before my period, I would have a severe reaction. So I finally got online and started reading about this very rare condition. I am an exception to the rule even under that category. I do not have skin reactions, just swelling shut of my throat -- a part of an anaphylactic reaction. I have always had severe allergies but not life threatening day to day.

I am 53 years old and the reactions started around the time of pre-menopause phase of life. My allergist finally agreed that maybe I am allergic to my own hormones, but not likely since it was such a rare condition. So I took things into my own hands and coordinated my Boston specialist with my outstanding gynecologist. The doctor did not have experience with this but he was open to reading all the (though there are very few articles) info I printed out for him about progesterone allergies.

First, they tried actually giving me some progesterone in a very low dose, and that went all right until we raised the dose, after which I had a few very bad days and stopped taking it myself. Also about the same time on a pelvic exam, it was found that my fibroid tumors I had were getting larger (very large) and I was having several heavy periods a month. So the discussion began about getting a total hysterectomy.

It was a relief to me that something was going to be done that might help two conditions. The progesterone would be halted in my body, plus I would be able to get rid of all the pressure in my abdomen from the fibroids. I am now just two months out from the total hysterectomy and for the first time in years, I am not going into anaphylaxis, especially being triggered even worse by spring allergies. I still have allergies but I do not have the throat swelling.

I do have severe hot flashes from being put in to surgical menopause, which we are trying to minimize with Divigel. No one dies from hot flashes, though. I hope this helps someone else out there. God bless.


I have autoimmune progesterone dermatitis. I had my first instance of it when my doctor put me on progesterone medication. I broke out in a rash in various parts of my body. When I stopped taking the medication, it seemed to go away.

After two years, I started getting the rash again, this time once a month and exactly a week before my period. The rash disappears as soon as my period starts. At first I thought it was like eczema symptoms, but when the rash started showing up at exactly the same time every month, my doctor diagnosed it as autoimmune progesterone dermatitis.

My doctor has given me several different topical treatments to try when I have a flare-up. The creams do relieve the irritation and itching. I just wish it could be cured all together.


@ysmina-- No, not all are immune system related. Most are caused by allergic reactions to irritants or excessive oil, dryness. Some doctors think that seborrheic dermatitis might be a immune system disorder but it's just a theory at this point.


Aren't all cases of dermatitis due to immune dysfunction?

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