Contact dermatitis usually occurs on areas of your body that have been directly exposed to the substance — for example, along a calf that brushed against poison ivy or under a watchband that triggers an allergy. The reaction usually develops within minutes to hours of exposure to an irritating substance or allergen. The rash can last two to four weeks.
Signs and symptoms of contact dermatitis include:
- Red rash or bumps
- Itching, which may be severe
- Dry, cracked, scaly skin, if your condition is chronic
- Blisters, draining fluid and crusting, if your reaction is severe
- Swelling, burning or tenderness
The severity of the rash depends on:
- How long you're exposed
- The strength of the substance that caused the rash
- Environmental factors, such as temperature, airflow and sweating from wearing gloves
- Your genetic makeup, which can affect how you respond to certain substances
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if:
- The rash is so uncomfortable that you are losing sleep or are distracted from your daily routine
- The rash is painful, severe or widespread
- You're embarrassed by the way your skin looks
- The rash doesn't get better within a few weeks
- The rash affects your face or genitals
Seek immediate medical care in the following situations:
July 16, 2014
- You think your skin is infected — clues include fever and pus oozing from blisters.
- Your lungs, eyes or nasal passages are painful and inflamed, perhaps from inhaling an allergen.
- You think the rash has damaged the mucous lining of your mouth and digestive tract.
- Goldner R, et al. Irritant contact dermatitis in adults. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Feb. 10, 2014.
- Goldsmith LA, et al., eds. Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in General Medicine. 8th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://www.accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=740. Accessed Feb. 10, 2014.
- McKoy K. Lichen simplex chronicus. The Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/sec10/ch114/ch114f.html. Accessed Feb. 10, 2014.
- AskMayoExpert. Contact dermatitis. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2013.
- AskMayoExpert. Poison ivy (adult and pediatric). Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2013.
- AskMayoExpert. Allergies to dental materials. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2013.
- Wolf R, et al. Periorbital (eyelid) dermatides. Clinics in Dermatology. 2014;32:131.
- Tan CH, et al. Contact dermatitis: Allergic and irritant. Clinics in Dermatology. 2014;32:116.
- Proksch E, et al. Abnormal epidermal barrier in the pathogenesis of contact dermatitis. Clinics in Dermatology. 2012;30:335.
- Pride HB, et al. What's new in pediatric dermatology? Part I. Diagnosis and pathogenesis. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. 2013;68:885.e2.
- Narayan S. Dermatological history and examination. Medicine. 2013;41:321. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1357303913001126. Accessed March 5, 2014.
- Minciullo PL, et al. Airborne contact dermatitis to drugs. Allergologia et Immunopathologia. 2013;41:121.
- Jenerowicz D, et al. Environmental factors and allergic diseases. Annals of Agricultural and Environmental Medicine. 2012;19:475.
- Chan YS, et al. A review of the pharmacological effects of Arctium lappa (burdock). Inflammopharmacology. 2011;19:245.
- Castanedo-Tardan MP, et al. Contact dermatitis in children: A review of current opinions. Actas Dermo-Sifiliograficas. 2011;102:8.
- Cashman MW, et al. Contact dermatitis in the United States: Epidemiology, economic impact and workplace prevention. Dermatologic Clinics. 2012;30:87.
- Lilly E, et al. Dermatoses secondary to Asian cultural practices. International Journal of Dermatology. 2012;51:372.
- Miroddi M, et al. Rosmarinus officinalis L. as cause of contact dermatitis. Allergologia et Immunopathologia. In press. Accessed March 4, 2014.
- Korkina L, et al. Plant polyphenols and human skin: Friends or foes. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 2012;1259:77.
- Protopic ointment (tacrolimus). U.S. Food and Drug Administration Safety Information. http://www.fda.gov/safety/medwatch/safetyinformation/safetyalertsforhumanmedicalproducts/ucm150742.htm. Accessed March 6, 2014.
- Alani JI, et al. Allergy to cosmetics: A literature review. Dermatitis. 2013;24:283.
- Usatine RP, et al. Diagnosis and management of contact dermatitis. American Academy of Family Physicians. http://www.aafp.org/afp/2010/080http://www.aafp.org/afp/2010/0801/p249.html1/p249.html. Accessed March 6, 2014.
- Auerbach PS. Wilderness Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2012.
- McEnery-Stonelake M, et al. Contact allergens in oral antihistamines. Dermatitis. 2014;25:83.