Dermatitis is a medical condition that is characterized by an inflammation of the skin which is commonly swollen, reddened, and itchy. It Is a self-limiting condition in which most people recover without any treatment and by avoiding the causative agent.

Dermatitis can make a person feel very uncomfortable, uneasy, and self-conscious. It does not transfer from one person to person. It affects males and females equally but women tend to get the disease at an earlier age compared to males. Dermatitis can occur at any age but is more common in childhood.

Dermatitis can be acute, characterized by erythema, vesiculation, and oozing, often with edma, Subacute dermatitis is similar to acute dermatitis, but with scaling and crusting, and chronic dermatitis is characterized by thickened dry patches, often lichenified from chronic rubbing.

There are mainly four types of dermatitis.

  • Contact dermatitis is the inflammatory reaction of the skin because of exposure to physical, chemical, or biological agents.

  • Atopic dermatitis also known as eczema is a chronic relapsing itching type of inflammatory skin disorder.

  • Seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the skin which involves the scalp, eyebrows, eyelids, ear canals, axilla, and trunk.

  • Exfoliative dermatitis is a skin disorder that is characterized by excessive peeling and shading of the skin.

Diagnosis is mainly based on the symptoms, physical examination, and some of the tests like patch tests in case of suspected triggering agents and blood tests are advised to rule out the underlying causes.

Treating patients with dermatitis depends on the type of dermatitis. Treatment mainly includes avoiding the triggering factors, using moisturizers, topical creams, lotions, corticosteroids, and some other treatments that can be required depending on the underlying cause.

Dermatitis: Causes

Various factors play an essential role in the development of dermatitis depending on the type of dermatitis caused. The following are the essential causes of developing dermatitis include −

  • Contact dermatitis occurs due to contact with acids, alkalis, soap, detergents, cosmetics, iodine, petroleum products, nail polish, lubricating oils, etc.

  • The exact cause of atopic dermatitis is unknown but elevated levels of Ig E increase sensitivity towards histamine, Family history of dry skin, eczema, asthma, and allergic rhinitis are known to play a role

  • The exact cause of the seborrheic type of dermatitis is unknown. Patients who are taking methyldopa in the case of Parkinson’s disease, Hypertensive patients, and HIV patients are at risk of developing this.

  • The exact cause of the exfoliative type is unknown. Risk factors for this type include Pediculosis, Psoriasis, Use of sulfonamides, and lymphoma.

Dermatitis: Symptoms

The patient with dermatitis mainly presents with the following symptoms that include −

  • Dermatitis characteristically presents with redness of the skin, swelling, and itch in the affected area.

  • Blisters or sores can develop in some patients. These usually cause pain.

  • The skin becomes dry, scaly, or flaky skin common in areas such as the face, scalp, and hands.

  • Crusting or oozing can be present, particularly in areas where the skin is broken or damaged.

  • The affected skin feels tight and causes discomfort.

  • The skin gets sensitive to touch or rubbing.

  • The skin may become thickened or leathery which is known as lichenification.

Dermatitis: Risk Factors

Several factors play an essential role in the development of dermatitis which include −

  • Atopic dermatitis is more common in children and young adults, while contact dermatitis is more common in adults.

  • People with allergies, particularly those with hay fever or asthma, may be at a higher risk of developing atopic dermatitis.

  • Certain occupations which involve frequent exposure to chemicals, such as cleaners, hairdressers, or healthcare workers, may increase the risk.

  • An individual with a family history of dermatitis, are at higher risk.

  • Certain medical conditions, such as hypertension, AIDS, diabetes, or autoimmune disorders increase the risk.

  • Stress can weaken the immune system and make the skin more sensitive.

  • Extreme temperatures such as low humidity, and exposure to harsh weather conditions can irritate the skin and increase the risk.

  • Any damage to the skin, such as cuts, burns, or insect bites, can also increase the risk.

Dermatitis: Diagnosis

The diagnosis of dermatitis is mainly made based on history, physical examination of the affected skin, and some of the tests may be required for confirmation that include −

  • History of the development of the symptoms after getting exposed to a particular agent, any allergies, and family history should be enquired about

  • Physical examination of the affected skin to look for signs of inflammation, redness, itching, and other symptoms of dermatitis.

  • Blood tests can be required to know an underlying cause.

  • Patch testing can be done in some patients in which, a small number of suspected allergens is applied on the skin and looked for a reaction. This test is commonly used to diagnose allergic contact dermatitis.

  • A biopsy can help diagnose certain types of dermatitis, such as psoriasis or eczema.

Dermatitis: Treatment

The treatment is based on the severity of the symptoms, the type of dermatitis, and the underlying cause.

  • Avoiding the triggering agent which is known to cause dermatitis should be done.

  • Topical corticosteroid creams or ointments help to reduce inflammation and itching.

  • Moisturizers are used to hydrate the skin, and emollients protect the skin and prevent further irritation.

  • Antihistamines are given to reduce the itching

  • Antibiotics, oral corticosteroids, and immunosuppressants may be required in some patients

  • Phototherapy is used in cases of eczema or psoriasis in which exposing the skin to specific wavelengths of light to help reduce inflammation and improve done

  • Wet dressings can be used to help soothe and cool the skin, reduce inflammation, and prevent further irritation. This involves applying a wet, cool compress to the affected area for some time.

  • In some cases, dermatitis may be chronic and require ongoing management to prevent flare-ups and manage symptoms.

Dermatitis: Prevention

Some of the measures that can help to prevent dermatitis to a certain extent and to reduce the symptoms include −

  • Taking a bath with lukewarm water can reduce can make the patient feel better

  • Identify the responsible agent that is triggering the reaction and should be avoided

  • If an individual is at occupational risk of exposure, then safety measures such as protective clothing, gloves, or barrier cream depending on the working environment should be taken.

  • Avoid exposure to irritants and allergens that can trigger the condition

  • Use moisturizers regularly to keep the skin hydrated and prevent dryness and itching.

  • Manage stress through various relaxing techniques.


Dermatitis is a skin disorder that is mainly characterized by redness, swelling, and itching of the skin. There are various types of dermatitis present, but some of the main types include atopic dermatitis or eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, and exfoliative dermatitis. The exact causes of various types of dermatitis are not known but a history of allergies, contact with particular agents, genetics, environmental factors, and various underlying diseases are known to influence its development.

The patient mainly presents with redness, swelling, and itching. Some patients may present with blisters, sores, cracks, and lichenification. The diagnosis is mainly based on the symptoms, physical examination, and some of the tests that may be required in some patients. Treating patients with dermatitis depends on the type of dermatitis and the severity of the symptoms. Treatment mainly involves avoiding the triggering factors, using moisturizers, topical creams, lotions, corticosteroids, and some other treatments that can be required depending on the underlying cause.

Dr. Durgesh Kumar Sinha
Dr. Durgesh Kumar Sinha


Updated on: 17-Apr-2023


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