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Irritant contact dermatitis

irritant contact dermatitisIrritant contact dermatitis is when your skin reacts to a particular substance (an irritant) and becomes red, itchy, painful and inflamed.

Common irritants include detergents, chemicals, over-exposure to water and skin that is injured by friction.

Irritant contact dermatitis can happen the first time your skin comes into contact with an irritant, for example after touching a strong chemical. But it usually happens when you regularly come into contact with an irritant. For example, you may be putting your hands in water often or using certain cleaning products.

Irritant contact dermatitis often affects your hands but it can affect any part of your skin that comes in contact with irritants. It's common in people with certain jobs such as hairdressers, cleaners, healthcare workers and caterers.

People who have atopic eczema or who had it in childhood are more likely to get irritant contact dermatitis.

Diagnosing irritant contact dermatitis

Your GP can usually diagnose irritant contact dermatitis by the appearance of your skin. They will ask you questions about your symptoms including when the symptoms first appeared, what you're in contact with and what made the symptoms worse. With your help, they will try to identify the irritant.

If the irritant is obvious, you will not need any tests. If it's not obvious, you might be referred to see a dermatologist (skin doctor) for patch testing. These are skin allergy tests to check if another condition, allergic contact dermatitis, is causing the problem.

You can read about patch testing on DermNet NZ.

Treating irritant contact dermatitis

Treatment for irritant contact dermatitis includes:

Getting help for irritant contact dermatitis

See your GP if you're concerned about your skin or it's showing signs of infection, such as being painful, weeping and blistering. You may need antibiotics to stop the infection.

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Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Last reviewed August 2021.


Page reference: 313605

Review key: HICOD-326084