Section 2.0 Contact Dermatitis – An Overview

The skin is the largest organ of the body. It is made up of several complex layers, all with different functions. The outer layer is the part we can see and it protects us from the ‘outside world.’ When this outer barrier is damaged, the risk of developing contact dermatitis increases.

What is contact dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis is an inflammatory skin condition that occurs when substances touch the skin and damage the outer layers. These substances may be found at home or work and can include soaps and detergents, preservatives and fragrances, hand cleansers, hair dye, moisturisers and ingredients in some gloves.

Occupational contact dermatitis is diagnosed when the contact dermatitis is caused by work place exposures, or where a pre-existing skin condition is exacerbated by work.

Skin dryness is usually the first sign of dermatitis.

Signs and symptoms of contact dermatitis include:

  • Dry skin
  • Redness
  • Itch
  • Pain
  • Flaking
  • Splitting and cracking
  • Blisters
  • Weeping

The hands are most commonly affected, although other exposed skin may be involved, such as the arms, face and neck.

Contact dermatitis can occur at any stage of life, and no history of allergy is needed. Contact dermatitis is not contagious, so cannot be passed on to others.

When dermatitis develops the skin may take months to heal, even once it looks like it has returned to normal.

Contact dermatitis may affect people working in a wide range of industries. Occupations most at risk include those working in:

  • Hairdressing
  • Healthcare
  • Food handling
  • Manufacturing
  • Construction
  • Printing
  • Metal working
  • Automotive industry

Types of dermatitis

There are 3 main types of contact dermatitis:

  1. Irritant contact dermatitis, which accounts for about 60-70% of cases
  2. Allergic contact dermatitis, which accounts for about 20-30% of cases
  3. Contact urticaria, which accounts for 5% of cases

Please Watch

Irritant and allergic contact dermatitis (April 2021 Dr J. Cahill)

Talk 11 Contact Dermatitis overview

Talk 4- Who should be patch tested: Making a diagnosis

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