image to download full size infographic)
You go to the doctor with a mystery rash and he or she tells you
that it is allergic contact dermatitis. Those few large words mean
your skin has reacted to what it identifies as a foreign substance.
The miserable, itchy rash that appears is your body's way of
defending against whatever irritant you have come in contact
If this happens to you, you are not alone. Seven percent of all
allergy sufferers struggle with skin allergies. In our infographic
above, we show some of the common causes of allergic contact
- Perfumes and fragrances
- Soaps and detergents
- Rubber boots or shoes made with synthetic materials
- Jewelry and/or contact with metals such as nickel
- Poison ivy, oak and sumac plants
Note that all three plants - poison ivy, oak and sumac - produce
an oily resin called urushiol (pronounced oo-roo-she-all). You
can't see urushiol, but a very small amount can cause a very
serious allergic reaction in highly sensitive people. Other plants,
such as mangos, cashews and the poodle-dog bush (found in
California) can also cause contact dermatitis.
What should you do if you have contact dermatitis?
Anytime you have a rash that appears and you are not sure of the
cause, you should always consult a medical professional. A
pharmacist or physician may be able to tell you what it is by
looking at the rash and asking a few basic questions. Many doctors
will recommend using an over-the-counter anti-itch treatment as the
first step. They may recommend prescription medications if the
over-the-counter solutions do not work.
Be sure to call your doctor if you use a medication and the
symptoms get worse, or if it becomes inflamed, hot or swollen as
that may be a sign of infection.