Contact Dermatitis

Eczema of the hand is very common and whilst it may be the result of an allergy, as in atopic eczema, it is more often the result of the skin coming in contact with an irritant. This form of eczema is known as Contact dermatitis, of which there are two types – Irritant Contact Dermatitis and Allergic Contact Dermatitis.

Irritant Contact Dermatitis

Irritant contact dermatitis is the result of the skin’s natural oil (sebum) being stripped from the skin by irritating substances coming in contact with the skin. It is not at all related to atopic eczema, which is the result of allergy.

Without sebum the skin becomes red, dry, cracked and painful. Anyone can develop the condition but it is most common in people whose jobs or everyday lives involve them coming in contact with strong irritating substances. This may include nurses, hairdressers, mechanics, cleaners, farmers, painters and builders.

Common household substances like citrus fruits, washing up detergents, onions and garlic may also lead to irritant contact dermatitis, leaving anyone open to the condition. As it is the hands that most commonly come in contact with these irritants it is the hands that irritant contact dermatitis usually affects.

Allergic Contact Dermatitis

Allergic contact dermatitis on the other hand is the result of a substance coming in direct contact with the skin that the body’s immune system identifies as a harmful allergen. An allergic reaction results. It may take 1 – 3 days for the reaction to become apparent.

The symptoms include localized redness, inflammation and open sores where the allergen came in contact with the skin. A secondary rash may also appear elsewhere on the skin. The areas most commonly affected by allergic contact dermatitis include the face, neck, under arms, arms, trunk, thighs, calves and feet.

Mel Sinclair, RN