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Symptoms of contact dermatitis

Have you ever had a moment where you were washing dishes or doing laundry with a cleaning agent like detergent and then your hand felt somewhat burned or irritated? That could be a sign of contact dermatitis. It is a common skin disorder that can occur to anyone at any age. Though this skin problem in general would not cause serious health problems, in some rare cases it can result in a person having difficulty breathing due to an allergic reaction causing airway swelling or closure called anaphylaxis.

Contact dermatitis is defined as a type of eczema skin disease due to an inflammatory reaction upon contact to a particular substance. Eczema is a term used to describe a group of conditions causing dry and irritated skin. Contact dermatitis is divided into two types which are irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis. The irritant one is caused by a substance that directly damages the outer layer of skin caused by chemical damage that triggers inflammation reaction while the allergen one is caused by substance that triggers the immune system thus affecting skin.

Symptoms of contact dermatitis in both irritant and allergen types are similar. Such symptoms are:

1-itchy, blistered, dry, thickened and cracked skin

2-skin become red or darker, some even dark brown, purple or grey

3-symptoms can affect any body part but mostly is the hands and face

4-skins that are affected by contact dermatitis can become infected. Infected skin can cause more pain at the infected site, discharge such as yellowish or milky colour liquid from skin, sudden feeling sick, feeling as if body is burning or shivering

Though the symptoms seem similar, the onset or the time taken for the symptoms to arise for both contact dermatitis is different. In irritant contact dermatitis, usually the skin reaction can be visible or felt quickly within minutes to a few hours after exposure to the irritants and the healing process starts almost immediately. Though milder irritants such as soap and detergents may present skin reaction only after frequent exposure. In allergic contact dermatitis, the time for skin reaction to happen is much more dependent on the characteristics of the allergen, the intensity of exposure and level of sensitivity to the person itself. The skin reaction usually starts to appear 24 to 72 hours after the skin is exposed to the allergen.

Generally, patients with contact dermatitis can treat themselves as these skin conditions are self-limited and can heal by themselves. However, as this is not usually the case especially for people involved with work that need to handle or repeated exposure to chemical and irritants, patients are advised to use emollients such as moisturisers or lotion to help with dry skin issue and topical corticosteroids such as steroid cream or ointments to help lessening the symptoms of itchy, burning, reddish and stinging. Antihistamines such as cetirizine are advised to help reduce the inflamed skin. The best way to treat this skin disorder is to avoid the irritants or the allergens causing it. To know what specific substance causing the disorder is quite difficult, thus it is advised to meet a doctor as the doctor will run some tests such as skin patch tests to identify the substance. Preventive measures that can be taken are:

-clean the skin immediately with warm water upon in contact with allergen or irritant and use emollient

-protect the hands by wearing gloves

-check ingredients use in make-up or skincare by reading the products label or finding the manufacturer website to avoid using substances that triggers the skin reaction

-regular use of emollients helps skin hydrated as hydrated skin gives more protection against irritants and allergens.