Dermatitis: what it is, causes, symptoms and treatments

The skin is the largest organ in our body. It is constantly exposed to different toxins and environmental factors that can result in changes in its texture, colour and cellular structure. Skin disease is one of the most common reasons why an individual would seek help from medical professionals. One of the common skin condition that patients suffer from is dermatitis. In this article, we shall take a brief look at dermatitis.

What is Dermatitis?

Dermatitis is a term that is used to describe a plethora of clinical conditions that are characterised by inflammation of the skin. It can range from simple redness and itching to extensive blistering and peeling off of the skin. It is a fairly common condition that affects millions of people across the globe. As such, dermatitis is very rarely life-threatening though certain forms of dermatitis are recognized to be a rather serious and require immediate treatment.

Causes of Dermatitis

There are a number of different factors are involved in the development of dermatitis. Below are some of the common ones implicated.

1. Contact dermatitis: This condition results from exposure of the skin to allergens acquired through contact. For example, contact dermatitis can occur with latex. Some people get contact dermatitis when they use cleaning products or even handle metal.

2. Atopic dermatitis: This condition is seen in individuals who are prone to developing allergies such as sneezing, coughing and bronchial asthma. Typically, patients have a family history of allergies and patients usually require recurrent courses of antihistamine medication to treat this.

3. Seborrhoeic dermatitis: This form of dermatitis is seen in individuals who suffer from oily or greasy skin. The pores within the skin can get blocked off and can get secondarily infected with bacterial organisms. Many a times, this condition is recurrent and is not resolved completely with treatment. A family history may be present.

Dermatitis symptoms

The clinical symptoms vary depending on the type of dermatitis. For example, in contact dermatitis, the rash that develops is limited to the area which came in contact with the allergen. In atopic dermatitis, an itchy red rash may develop on any part of the body, though there appears to be a predilection towards the back of the elbow and knee.

In seborrhoeic dermatitis, patients may develop small lumps with accumulation of pus within them. Dryness of the scalp can also be seen and typically the hair appears covered in skin flakes. The skin can also become rather itchy and often recurrent infections that are resistant to antibiotics therapy can be seen.

Diagnosis of dermatitis

Most cases of dermatitis can be diagnosed through clinical history and examination alone. The rash is usually fairly typical and the history is a rather unique. However, once in awhile there may be cases that can be difficult to determine through clinical history and examination alone and these patients will require further investigation in the form of laboratory tests and microbiological examinations.

In patients with contact dermatitis, skin patch testing may be conducted to determine the cause of dermatitis. Allergy testing may be done in patients suffering from atopic dermatitis.

Dermatitis Treatment

The best treatment of the dermatitis is to avoid any triggering factors that set it off. Of course, these cannot be recognised until the patient has suffered an episode of dermatitis at least once. In patients with contact dermatitis, avoiding the product or allergen that causes the dermatitis must be done. Some patients may require corticosteroid ointment in order to reduce the inflammation.

In patients with atopic dermatitis, antihistamines may be prescribed if the lesions are itchy. Furthermore, problems such as sneezing and a runny nose can all be managed with these drugs. Patients may need to adopt certain lifestyle changes in order to reduce the chances of them being exposed to allergens. For example, patients who are allergic to cats may need to hand over their cat to another owner in order to prevent them from constantly developing allergies. These days, antihistamine medication along with the steroid cream is readily available over-the-counter in most pharmacies and supermarkets.

Preventative measures

Prevention is better than cure and in patients who have been diagnosed with dermatitis, preventing exposure to known allergens is the best way to prevent an acute attack. Using mild detergent and wearing hypoallergenic clothing can prevent the onset of dermatitis. Using good quality moisturiser and mild soaps is also recommended.

Alternative therapies

As is the case with every medical condition, alternative therapies do exist though their effect has not been scientifically proven. For example, regular consumption of probiotics is believed to reduce the chances of developing allergies in children. Using rice bran as a topical applicant is believed to help treat atopic dermatitis.

While alternative therapies may help some patients, it should certainly not be used as first-line treatment as certain forms of dermatitis can progress to more serious ones that require oral steroids and occasionally hospitalization.


Dermatitis is a well-recognized clinical condition that affects millions of individuals across the globe. It is the most common reason why patients attend doctor’s clinic. Different forms of dermatitis exist, with each of them having unique symptoms. Treatment modalities are relatively the same however and prevention appears to be a lot better than adopting curative measures. Patients need to be extra careful regarding what they do and do not come in contact with and must have some form of treatment remedy available at hand if they suffer from dermatitis.

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