Dermatitis is a generic term describing the inflammation of the skin. Dermatitis has many causes and might occur in various forms. It usually has signs including red, irritated and swollen (edematous) skin with itchiness and eruption.

Dermatitis might have symptoms such as vesicular skin lesions as well as oozing, scaling, drying and flaking of these lesions.

Examples of dermatitis include atopic dermatitis (eczema), dandruff, rash and skin eruption, which are caused by  contact with substances such as chemicals, metals and plants.

Dermatitis is a very common condition that is not contagious and often not life threatening. Yet, it discomforts the person. Personal care in combination with particular medications might help with the treatment.

Signs and Symptoms

Different types of dermatitis might appear in different parts of the body with different forms. The most common types of dermatitis are as follows;

Atopic dermatitis (eczema): It is a red, itchy rash that often starts in infancy. It is usually seen in the areas where the skin is folded, such as inside of elbows, behind knees and neck. When the red area is scratched, fluids might ooze and then develop a scab.  Atopic dermatitis might be relieved, healed or relapse over time.

Contact dermatitis: It is a redness condition that occurs when skin is irritated in contact with substances that may cause allergic reactions. Burning, stinging and blistering might occur on the affected area.

Seborrhoeic dermatitis: This condition causes patchy red rashes and stubborn dandruff on the affected areas. This type of dermatitis is often prevalent in oily areas of the skin such as the face, chest or back. Healing and relapse periods might be also alternating in this type of dermatitis. Seborrhoeic dermatitis in infants’ scalp is called cradle cap.

When is it required to see a physician?

If these complaints cause  discomfort in daily life, sleep deprivation, pain and inflammation on the skin, and if they cannot be treated with personal care and hygiene, it is required to visit a physician.

The Causes of Dermatitis

Genetic factors, different diseases, allergic conditions or exposure to irritants might cause different types of dermatitis.

Atopic dermatitis is due to a combination of various factors, including dry skin, genetic predisposition, a potential immune system disorder, bacteria on the skin, and environmental conditions.

Contact dermatitis is caused by  contact with allergenic substances such as various plants, cosmetics, jewelry, perfumes and preservatives.

Seborrhoeic dermatitis: It can be due to a form of yeast (fungus) that settles on the skin. Patients with seborrhoeic dermatitis may notice that their complaints vary seasonally.

Risk Factors

A number of factors may increase the risk of developing certain types of dermatitis;

  • Age: Although dermatitis occurs at all ages, atopic dermatitis more often starts in infancy.
  • Allergy and asthma: Individuals with a personal or family history of allergy or asthma  are more likely to have atopic dermatitis.
  • Occupation: Working with certain metals, solvents and cleaning supplies increases the risk of contact dermatitis. Being a healthcare provider increases the risk of contact dermatitis on the hands.
  • Medical condition: Parkinson’s disease or congestive heart failure increases the risk of seborrhoeic dermatitis.

Scratching the itchy rash might cause open wounds and inflammation of these wounds. These inflammations might spread to other parts of the body and in rare instances can  be life threatening.

Before visiting a physician

Before visiting your physician, it might be helpful to prepare for certain questions  that s/he may ask you.

  • What are the complaints and when did they start?
  • Are there any reasons to cause these complaints?
  • What are the medications currently used?
  • Does asthma  run in the family?
  • Has any treatment been applied before? Did these treatments work?

Diagnosis of Dermatitis

Your physician might do some tests, including skin biopsy and patch tests after hearing your history and examining you.


As the cause and the course of dermatitis vary across patients, the treatment varies from person to person as well. In addition to routine personal care at home, medications in dermatitis treatment are as follows:

  • Creams or pomades containing corticosteroids
  • Creams containing calcineurin inhibitors
  • Phototherapy
  • Apart from these treatments, oral tablets with antihistamines may help to decrease itchiness.
  • Applying cold compression on the skin may reduce itchiness.
  • Warm shower may ease off the complaints.
  • Excessive rubbing and scratching of the skin should be avoided.
  • Keeping the skin moist may alleviate the severity of dermatitis.
Avoiding daily stress may reduce the severity of the disease.
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