To diagnose dermatitis, your doctor will likely talk with you about your symptoms and examine your skin. You may need to have a small piece of skin removed (biopsied) for study in a lab, which helps rule out other conditions.
Your doctor may recommend patch testing on your skin. In this test, small amounts of different substances are applied to your skin and then covered. The doctor looks at your skin during visits over the next few days to look for signs of a reaction. Patch testing can help diagnose specific types of allergies causing your dermatitis.
The treatment for dermatitis varies, depending on the cause and your symptoms. In addition to the lifestyle and home remedies recommendations below, dermatitis treatment might include one or more of the following:
- Applying to the affected skin corticosteroid creams, gels or ointments
- Applying to the affected skin certain creams or ointments that affect your immune system (calcineurin inhibitors)
- Exposing the affected area to controlled amounts of natural or artificial light (phototherapy)
- Using oral corticosteroids (pills) or injectable dupilumab, for severe disease
- Using wet dressings, a medical treatment for severe atopic dermatitis that involves applying a corticosteroid and wrapping it with wet bandages
Lifestyle and home remedies
These self-care habits can help you manage dermatitis and feel better:
- Moisturize your skin. Routinely applying a moisturizer can help your skin.
- Use anti-inflammation and anti-itch products. Hydrocortisone cream might temporarily relieve your symptoms. Oral antihistamines, such as diphenhydramine, may help reduce itching. These types of products are available without a prescription.
- Apply a cool wet cloth. This helps soothe your skin.
- Take a comfortably warm bath. Sprinkle your bathwater with baking soda or a finely ground oatmeal that's made for the bathtub (colloidal oatmeal). Soak for 5 to 10 minutes, pat dry and apply unscented moisturizer while your skin is still damp. A lotion of 12% ammonium lactate or 10% alpha-hydroxy acid helps with flaky, dry skin.
- Use medicated shampoos. For dandruff, use OTC shampoos containing selenium sulfide, zinc pyrithione, coal tar or ketoconazole.
Take a dilute bleach bath. This may help people with severe atopic dermatitis by decreasing the bacteria on the skin. For a dilute bleach bath, add 1/2 cup (about 118 milliliters) of household bleach, not concentrated bleach, to a 40-gallon (about 151-liter) bathtub filled with warm water. Measures are for a U.S. standard-sized tub filled to the overflow drainage holes. Soak for 5 to 10 minutes and rinse off before patting dry. Do this 2 to 3 times a week.
Many people have had success using a dilute vinegar bath rather than a bleach bath. Add 1 cup (about 236 milliliters) of vinegar to a bathtub filled with warm water.
- Avoid rubbing and scratching. Cover the itchy area with a dressing if you can't keep from scratching it. Trim your nails and wear gloves at night.
- Choose mild laundry detergent. Because your clothes, sheets and towels touch your skin, choose mild, unscented laundry products.
- Avoid known irritants or allergens. Try to identify and remove allergens and other factors in your environment that irritate your skin. Avoid rough and scratchy clothing.
- Manage your stress. Emotional stressors can cause some types of dermatitis to flare. Consider trying stress management techniques such as relaxation or biofeedback.
Many alternative therapies, including those listed below, have helped some people manage their dermatitis. But evidence for their effectiveness is mixed. And sometimes herbal and traditional remedies cause irritation or an allergic reaction.
- Dietary supplements, such as vitamin D and probiotics, for atopic dermatitis
- Rice bran broth (applied to the skin), for atopic dermatitis
- 5% tea tree oil shampoo, for dandruff
- Aloe, for seborrheic dermatitis
- Chinese herbal therapy
If you're considering dietary supplements or other alternative therapies, talk with your doctor about their pros and cons.
Preparing for your appointment
You may first bring your concerns to the attention of your family doctor. Or you may see a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of skin conditions (dermatologist).
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment and know what to expect from your doctor.
What you can do
Before your appointment, list your answers to the following questions:
- What are your symptoms, and when did they start?
- Does anything seem to trigger your symptoms?
- What medications are you taking, including those you take by mouth as well as creams or ointments that you apply to your skin?
- Do you have a family history of allergies or asthma?
- What treatments have you tried so far? Has anything helped?
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may reserve time to go over any points you want to talk about in depth. Depending on what type of dermatitis you have, your doctor may ask:
- Do your symptoms come and go, or are they fairly constant?
- How often do you shower or bathe?
- What products do you use on your skin, including soaps, lotions and cosmetics?
- What household cleaning products do you use?
- Are you exposed to any possible irritants from your job or hobbies?
- Have you been under any unusual stress or depressed lately?
- How much do your symptoms affect your quality of life, including your ability to sleep?