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Dermatitis: The Skinny On Skin Inflammation

Winter months can be especially hard on skin, but sometimes the weather is not the only problem. If you, or someone you know, is plagued with dry, red, itchy, and/or scaly patches of skin, this month's newsletter, Dermatitis: The Skinny On Skin Inflammation, may help you or your friend better understand dermatitis and help you find relief.

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  1. What is dermatitis and what causes it?
  2. Who has dermatitis?
  3. Could I have dermatitis?What can I do for prevention
    and relief?
  4. Should I see a doctor?
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The Skinny On Skin Inflammation

1. What is dermatitis and what causes it?

Dermatitis is defined as an inflammation of the skin. The term dermatitis covers many types of skin irritations. The three types of dermatitis most often associated with allergies and chemical sensitivities are allergic contact dermatitis, irritant contact dermatitis, and atopic dermatitis (eczema).

Allergic contact dermatitis results from an allergy in which the immune system overreacts to a normally harmless substance. The National Institute of Health describes an allergic reaction in this way:
Normally, your immune system fights germs. It is your body's defense system. In most allergic reactions, however, it is responding to a false alarm.
Simply put, allergic contact dermatitis is due to touching something you are allergic to. This is similar to how someone who is allergic to pollen may react with sneezing when exposed, but another person who is not allergic does not react at all. Poison Ivy That Causes A Rash of Little Bumps Or Blisters Is One Form Of Allergic Contact DermatitisIn the same way, some people get a rash from poison ivy, and others don't. When someone who is allergic to poison ivy touches the plant, a reaction is created at the point of contact. If you pick it up when you are raking leaves, you will get a rash on your hands. If it brushes against your bare leg on a hike, the rash will be on your leg. Some common allergens that can cause a skin reaction are hair dye, wool & other clothing, leather, furs, nail care products, cosmetics, sunscreen, perfumes and fragrances, latex, topical medications, poison ivy and other plants, detergents, cleaning products and metals, especially nickel and those containing nickel.

Irritant contact dermatitis occurs when you come in contact with a non-allergic skin irritant. This type of dermatitis is not due to an allergy, so is not related to the immune system. Instead, irritant contact dermatitis is due to a sensitivity to a certain irritant. While everyone is sensitive to sulfuric acid, some substances are irritating only to certain people. For example, there is a brand of dishwashing liquid that makes the skin on my hands itch, flake, and peel. I'm sure thousands of people use this brand with no irritation. Likewise, I can use other brands with no irritation that may cause a reaction in someone else. Household cleaning products and personal hygiene products are the most common irritants that cause dermatitis. The skin reaction can occur immediately after contact, but often the reaction does not appear after the first use - it occurs after repeated use of the irritant.

Telling allergic dermatitis and irritant dermatitis apart can be difficult. One difference is the time lapse from contact to reaction. Allergic contact dermatitis may take 24-48 hours to show up according to the Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America, while irritant contact dermatitis appears in a short time after contact. The skin looks somewhat different, too. The reaction to an allergen is likely to be red and itchy with bumps or small blisters. With an irritant, the skin will most often be red, dry and painful, resembling a burn.

The cause of eczema is unknown, but one form of eczema, atopic dermatitis, is related to asthma and hay fever. "Atopic" means that the person has a personal or family history of asthma, hay fever, or food allergies. Atopic dermatitis can result from contact with an allergen or irritant, but it can also be caused by inhalation of airborne allergens such as dust mite allergen, pet dander, or pollen. Sometimes people who are allergic to dust mites have an allergic reaction in the form of a rash. It may look like little bites, but it's not because dust mites don't bite. Allergic reaction to foods (eggs, milk, and peanuts are common allergens) can also cause atopic dermatitis. Eczema most often occurs in infants and children, but adults may also have eczema. In infants, eczema often occurs on the cheeks, forehead, and scalp. Eczema - A Red, Extremely Itchy Rash - Is One Type Of Atopic DermatitisWith older children and adults, eczema often appears on the skin folds at the back of the elbows and knees and the front of the neck. In adults, eczema can also be seen on hands and feet. An eczema flare-up can be brought on by contact with things like wool, pets, or soap. The reaction can be triggered by overheating, sweating, or food allergies. Anger and frustration do not cause an eczema outbreak, but emotions can make a flare-up worse. With eczema, the skin is inflamed, very itchy, and the rash can weep and crust over. Eczema tends to flare up periodically, sometimes with years in between episodes.

2. Who has dermatitis?

"Lots of people" is the easy answer. Here are some statistics from the American Academy of Asthma, Allergy & Immunology:
  • Contact dermatitis leads to approximately 5.7 million doctor visits each year.
  • More than 3,700 substances have been identified as contact allergens.
  • Atopic dermatitis affects between 10% and 20% of children and 1% to 3% of adults.
  • About 27% of children who have a food allergy also have eczema or a skin allergy.

3. Could I have dermatitis?

If you have a patch of red skin that is itchy or painful, you could have dermatitis. With contact dermatitis the red, itchy rash is almost exclusively where you have come in contact with an allergic substance. You may have a rash, know you have been in contact with a common allergen or irritant, but you don't think that is the cause because you never had a reaction before. The unfortunate truth is that you may not have a reaction for years, and then there is the one contact that puts you over the top and you break out. That happened to me with poison ivy. I was in my 40's when I got my first case of poison ivy rash - after years of being smug about not being allergic to it.

The same is true of nickel allergy. You could develop a rash the first time you wear a new piece of jewelry or a new belt or you may not develop a rash until you have worn the item several times. Avoid Contact With Nickel By Using Nickel Solution - Click For More InfoYou may break out several times before you have that "aha" moment and realize that every time you wear those earrings, your ears get red and itchy. If a baby has round, evenly spaced irritated spots down the middle of his belly, it could be an allergic reaction to nickel in the snaps on his sleeper. You could come in contact with nickel in obvious places like rings, bracelets and necklaces, but have you thought about the zipper, snap, or button on your jeans, the silverware you eat with, and the stems of your eyeglasses? Anything metal, even fine jewelry, can contain nickel.

Another common cause of allergic contact dermatitis is latex. Even the new patient forms in doctors' offices often ask, "Do you have latex allergies?" If you suspect a latex allergy, it is important to let doctors, healthcare workers, and hospitals know so they will not inadvertently expose you to latex.

If your skin gets irritated and red (or just plain angry) when you clean the bathtub, hand wash some delicates, or shampoo your hair, you may have irritant contact dermatitis. The reaction can happen the first time you use a product. Or you can use a product for months and then one day you use it and you immediately notice a reaction. Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema) Is Often Linked To Asthma or Allergies

You or your child may have atopic dermatitis, especially if there is a history of asthma or an allergy in the family. It is more common in infants and children, but does occur in adults.

4. What can I do for prevention and relief?

Once you identify the cause, avoid it if at all possible. Avoid Contact With Nickel By Using Nickel Solution - Click For More InfoIf there are times you can't avoid it, take precautions to avoid contact.



For allergic contact dermatitis caused by a nickel allergy, you can test metals and apply a protective coating with Nickel Solution to prevent a reaction.

If you react to poison ivy, oak or sumac, stay away from it, and if you think you could accidentally come in contact with one of these plants, cover up and wear gloves. Wash your hands or affected areas immediately after contact. It is possible to get a poison ivy, poison oak, or poison sumac rash from touching garden tools or pets that have been in contact with the plants.
Choose Fragrance-Free Products Like Vanicream - Click For More Info

When cosmetics, perfumes, or hair dyes cause skin irritation, change brands or stop using them altogether. Choose products that are fragrance-free such as Vanicream and Free & Clear.

If you suspect - or the doctor has identified - irritant contact dermatitis, you should, of course, eliminate the offending irritant. If you have trouble pinpointing the chemical, try using cleaning products and personal products with the fewest ingredients
and the least irritating chemicals like vegetable-based Envirorite laundry and cleaning products.

Choose Low Chemical or Vegetable-Based Products Like Envirorite For Laundry And Cleaning - Click For More Info

Non-Steroid Proteque Holds In Moisture & Controls Itch - Click For More Info
With eczema, breaking the itch/scratch cycle is of utmost importance. Applying cold compresses and keeping skin well moisturized help reduce itching. Choose a moisturizer like non-steroid, therapeutic strength Proteque to hold in moisture and control itch. Avoid irritants and triggers that can lead to a flare-up.

Any time you have a skin reaction, try to think of any new product you have used. Then think of what you were using just before the reaction, even if you have used it for years. Experiment by avoiding one product and then another, and you may be able to identify the cause of your dermatitis.

5. Should I see a doctor?

A visit to the doctor is warranted any time you have discomfort or pain or an unusual rash, but it becomes advisable if the skin irritation is severe enough to interfere with your daily routine or keep you awake at night. Also, if you are unable to identify the source of your reaction, a trip to an allergist might be in order. After all, you have to know what it is to avoid it.

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The information in this newsletter is for educational purposes only. Always consult with your doctor first about your specific condition, treatment options and other health concerns you may have.

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