Dermatitis – Causes and Treatments

Dermatitis is a skin condition that varies in severity. Treatments focus on decreasing inflammation and itching. They may include adding baking soda or ground oatmeal to a cool bath, moisturizing the skin regularly and taking oral medication.


People with a family history of eczema, allergies, hay fever and asthma are more likely to develop dermatitis. Stress, certain types of chemicals and tobacco smoke can also trigger it.


Dermatitis can be caused by several factors. Some types can result from your immune system overreacting to small irritants or allergens. Others may be related to a change in the skin barrier or to certain genes.

Your dermatologist will examine your skin for the classic signs of dermatitis, including redness, scaling, dryness and itching. He or she will ask you about your symptoms and when they started. Your doctor will also look for any underlying causes of the rash. For example, if you develop itchy rashes after contact with poison ivy, oak or sumac, the reaction may be due to a chemical in these plants called urushiol.

Other rash-causing chemicals can include petroleum-based products such as perfumes, detergents and hand soaps, some types of cosmetics and some foods. These can trigger allergic contact dermatitis. Neurodermatitis (coin-shaped, itchy lesions in the creases of your skin) and yeast infections in the skin folds (intertrigo) can also cause rashes.

Your dermatologist will recommend ways to help relieve the itch. You should avoid scratching your rash as it can worsen the condition and lead to infection and scars. Use moisturizer on your skin daily, especially right after a shower or bath. Wear soft, cotton clothing to prevent rubbing and irritation. Minimize irritants by using unscented soap, laundry detergent and lotions. Take short, cool baths and showers instead of long, hot ones.


Dermatitis can cause red, itchy areas that blister, ooze or flake. The symptoms vary depending on the type of dermatitis. The condition is most common in infants and children, but it can occur in adults as well, notes National Jewish Health. Inherited traits, allergies and certain existing health conditions can increase your risk for dermatitis. Contact dermatitis often occurs when the skin comes into direct contact with an irritant, such as poison ivy or other plants or a chemical in household cleaners or detergents. Eczema, another form of dermatitis, typically occurs in the creases of the knees and elbows or on the scalp, hands and feet. Itchy skin can lead to scratching, which can lead to broken skin and infections like impetigo and cold sores.

To diagnose dermatitis, your healthcare provider will take a close look at your skin and ask you about the symptoms you’ve been having. They may also order blood tests to find out whether you’re having an allergic reaction to something. They may also perform a skin biopsy to confirm the diagnosis or rule out other diseases that can cause itchy, scaly skin. Your doctor can recommend daily skincare routines that will help relieve the symptoms of dermatitis, including using moisturizers and taking regular baths or showers with lukewarm water. They can also prescribe medications for you, such as steroid creams or antihistamine pills.


A GP can usually diagnose dermatitis from the appearance of your skin and your description of your symptoms. They will ask questions about when your symptoms started and how long they last. They will also look for any triggers you might have identified, such as a particular food or substance. If they suspect you might have contact dermatitis, they may perform a skin patch test. This involves applying small amounts of different substances to your arm or back and checking for a reaction after 2 days. This is most often done to help identify allergens that might be causing contact dermatitis.

Other tests might be needed, depending on the type of dermatitis you have. For example, a skin biopsy is used to rule out other conditions that could look like dermatitis, such as low-grade skin cancer or psoriasis. A prick skin test (where a doctor pricks your skin with a sharp instrument to remove one or more small samples of skin) might be needed to identify allergens that might be causing eczema.

Mild dermatitis symptoms are usually eased by regularly moisturizing with a mild lotion or cream. For more severe itchiness, doctors can prescribe steroid creams or oral antihistamines. Dandruff dermatitis can be relieved with dandruff shampoos that contain tar, salicylic acid, zinc pyrithione, or ketoconazole. For dermatitis caused by chemicals, your doctor might advise avoiding the triggering chemical, or they might prescribe a stronger topical corticosteroid.


The treatment for dermatitis depends on the type and severity of symptoms. Symptoms of allergy-related dermatitis — such as atopic dermatitis (eczema), seborrheic dermatitis and contact dermatitis — often improve with avoidance of irritants. Creams containing cannabinoids may help with itching in some patients. Moisturizing regularly helps control itchiness. In some cases, a doctor will prescribe anti-inflammatory steroids to decrease inflammation and itching, especially if the condition is not controlled with over-the-counter treatments.

A doctor can diagnose dermatitis by looking at the skin and asking about the patient’s symptoms. They will also want to know if the patient has any existing health conditions that could affect the condition, such as asthma or allergies. People who have a history of eczema or hay fever are at risk of developing atopic dermatitis.

Certain types of dermatitis can develop without an obvious cause, such as neurodermatitis or dyshidrotic dermatitis. These types of dermatitis involve itchy patches that appear on the hands, feet and genitals. Neurodermatitis can be caused by a bacterial infection, while dyshidrotic dermatitis typically results from a fungus. Preventing dermatitis is possible by using gentle soaps, moisturizing frequently and wearing loose-fitting cotton clothing. In some cases, a dermatologist will recommend a bleach bath, in which the patient immerses themselves in diluted bleach to help loosen dry skin scales and itching.