Q: Are certain occupations at greater risk?

A. Some occupations have more exposure to chemicals or substances that can result in sensitization and cause allergic contact dermatitis. These include dental workers, health care workers, florists, hairdressers, machinists, and photographers among many others.

Q: What are the symptoms of contact dermatitis?

A. Contact dermatitis symptoms can range from mild redness and dryness to severe pain and peeling that can be disabling.

Q: How can I know if I have contact dermatitis?

A. If you have a skin rash that won't go away, visit your health care provider. If he or she suspects allergic contact dermatitis, patch testing may be performed. In this test, small samples of chemicals are placed on an area of skin to see if a rash develops. There are no needles or pricking of the skin. The areas of the skin are then evaluated after 48 hours and again at 96 hours or one week.

The advantage of patch testing is that the allergens can be identified and your health care provider can effectively treat the rash. This avoids the need for chronic medications that have many potential side effects.

There are no tests that can be done for irritant contact dermatitis. Tell your health care provider about any irritating substances or chemicals that you regularly come into contact with (including cosmetics, lotions, and nail polish).

With either type of contact dermatitis, you can avoid substances you suspect and see if the rash goes away.

Q: How is contact dermatitis treated?

A. The form of treatment will depend on the cause of contact dermatitis. Common treatments include: cortisone-type creams, antihistamines, lotions and creams or oatmeal baths (to relieve itching).

Q:How can I prevent contact dermatitis?

A. For allergic contact dermatitis:

  • Avoid contact with substances that cause the skin rash.
  • Wash any area that comes into contact with allergic substances.
  • Learn to recognize poison oak and poison ivy.

For irritant contact dermatitis:

  • Wear cotton gloves under rubber gloves for all wet work. Or, use petroleum jelly to the protect the skin. Reapply the petroleum jelly two or three times a day and after washing your hands.
  • Avoid contact with substances that irritate the skin.
  • Use mild soaps.
  • Use hand creams and lotions frequently.

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