It looks like redness, sometimes with blisters. It usually stings or itches. The irritant kind is more common than the allergic kind.
It’s the sort of thing you see in housewives’ hands, when they use too much bleach on the sink. It’s also common in hairdressers, masons, painters, and laboratory technicians.
There is ‘patch-testing’, to see if it’s the allergic kind. (This is what it sounds like – little patches of skin treated for a few days to various potential allergens.) Sometimes if we’re exposed to allergens we can become allergic to them, even if we weren’t before. An allergen can be just about anything, too. For some people it’s garden pollen, or cat dandruff. For others it’s nickel, after enough wearings of belt buckles or earrings.
Step one in treatment is to stop coming into contact with whatever you think is causing the problem.
Your doctor may try some corticosteroids or calcineurin-inhibitors to bring the irritation under control. (Sometimes irritations have a way of perpetuating themselves, and they need stopping.)
Going forward, you want to be nice to your skin. Keep it clean, and dry, but don’t over-wash or dehydrate it. That makes it prone to more irritation.
If it’s the irritant kind of contact dermatitis, and you’ve ceased contact with the irritant, it will stop. The time it takes depends on what the irritant was, how badly your skin reacted, and what kind of shape your tissue-repair system is in.
If it’s the allergic kind, the prognosis is much the same, only now you know you have an allergy.
Questions about your skin? Ask our dermatologists online for $35.