Find dermatitis treatment options and understand the causes of dermatitis.
Dermatitis is a blanket term for skin inflammations and rashes. There are numerous types of dermatitis, each with its own specific set of symptoms and causes. Keep reading for an overview of the most common dermatitis varieties.
Some forms of dermatitis, like cercarial dermatitis (also known as “swimmer’s itch”), are caused by parasites, while others are caused by germs, as in the case of “hot tub rash,” (folliculitis) caused by the germ Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Poison ivy and other allergens like nickel and rubber can cause allergic contact dermatitis. Psoriasis, which often appears on the elbows and knees as silvery scales, is now believed to be caused by the immune system. Typically, only the lower legs are affected by stasis dermatitis, which is caused by a buildup of fluid under the skin. And then there are other disorders like perioral dermatitis (which affects the skin around the mouth), whose cause is unknown. Other common forms of dermatitis include eczema, nummular dermatitis (a form of eczema that often follows skin injury), psoriasis and seborrheic dermatitis (a condition that affects the scalp).
Each type of dermatitis causes different symptoms. However, the most common feature of dermatitis is red, itchy and/or swollen skin. Skin lesions are also common. Eczema is generally symmetrical -- that is, it affects both sides of the body equally -- which helps to differentiate it from contact dermatitis, which only affects the area that comes into contact with the allergen.
Some dermatitis conditions can be identified based on where they appear on the body. For instance, seborrheic dermatitis is found on the scalp and perioral dermatitis occurs around the mouth. Other features that help dermatologists distinguish between types of dermatitis are the shape and color of lesions and the pattern rashes spread in.
Depending on the type of dermatitis, treatment can consist of oral antibiotics, corticosteroid creams, topical antibiotic creams, oral histamines, injectable corticosteroids, silver sulfadiazine cream, vinegar compresses, anti-fungal medications, oral antiviral medications, acne medications, medicated shampoos, tar solutions, oatmeal baths, ultraviolet light treatment, menthol-phenol lotions and other medications.
Contact dermatitis is usually treated by identifying and avoiding the allergen. Occasionally, steroid creams may be prescribed to decrease itchiness. Lotions containing hydrocortisone are most often used to treat eczema.
Seborrheic dermatitis usually responds to medicated shampoos, which could contain salicylic acid, pyrithione zinc, ketoconazole or tar. Tetracycline is the most common treatment for perioral dermatitis.
Mild cases of psoriasis may be cured with light therapy or topical creams. There are a number of oral medications available to treat more severe or drug-resistant cases.
Many types of dermatitis can be temporarily relieved with cold compresses or oatmeal baths. The most important treatment step is identifying the type of dermatitis you have. You may need to consult a dermatologist, a doctor who specializes in skin disorders. Use the American Academy of Dermatology’s dermatologist finder to find a specialist near you.
For further reading on dermatitis treatments, go to the American Academy of Dermatology’s Web site.