Dermatitis is a scary-sounding condition, but what is it and how do you recognise if you’ve got it?
Dermatitis, very simply, is an irritation of the skin. It’s a bit of a catch-all term for skin reactions, sensitivities and inflammation, which can be divided into various subcategories.
The most common kinds of dermatitis are atopic dermatitis (also known as eczema) and contact dermatitis (a reaction to something your skin has touched), but there’s also dyshidrotic dermatitis (usually characterised by blisters on hands and feet) and seborrheic dermatitis (a scaly rash usually occurring on the scalp, and known as cradle cap in babies).
So how would you recognise dermatitis, as opposed to other skin conditions or reactions such as hives, psoriasis, infections or viral rashes? Well, that might take a bit of detective work by your doctor, as skin issues can appear quite similar to each other.
Symptoms of dermatitis
Dermatitis usually appears on the skin in one or more of the following ways:
- Itchy patches
- Dry skin
- Raised bumps on the skin
- Cracked or raw patches of skin
- Stinging or burning sensations
- Inflamed or discoloured areas of skin
The variation in dermatitis symptoms is, as you can see, quite considerable! It can sometimes be hard to distinguish between dermatitis and a skin infection, for example. While the term can cover a very wide variety of skin issues, it’s important to get the right treatment for the right condition.
To complete a diagnosis of dermatitis and decide on a course of treatment, your doctor would look at various other factors: your age, your sex, your general health, if you were taking any medications, if you’d been in contact with any irritants, if you had an allergies, and if you were already prone to eczema, for example.
First of all, if you think something you’ve touched has triggered a flare-up of dermatitis, you’ll need to identify the culprit and avoid it! You may be reacting to your watch strap, earrings, laundry detergent, shampoo, perfume, household cleaners, industrial chemicals, dust, plants, plasters or even the hard water in your tap! It’s not an easy task, so do ask your doctor for help, or consult the information given about contact dermatitis by the National Eczema Society.
Often a case of contact dermatitis will resolve itself within a week or so; if it persists longer than 3 weeks or is getting worse, get an appointment to see your doctor. They may be able to give you antihistamines, steroid creams (for short-term use), or suggest other lines of treatment.
Other forms of dermatitis (such as eczema) can be chronic conditions that might come and go, with flare-ups caused by all sorts of environmental, psychological, physical or physiological triggers.
As well as avoiding your own specific triggers and following any treatment suggested by your doctor, you'll need to do all you can soothe the inflammation, protect any broken skin, help it repair itself, and build up your skin's resilience. This is usually done with the regular use of rich and protective emollients, which are designed to keep moisture in the skin and prevent any further damage being done.
We’d recommend Skin Salvation or Daily Moisturising Cream as excellent, non-irritant, natural emollients to keep skin affected by dermatitis moisturised, nourished and protected. Our Intensive Hand Cream can also help moisturise hands suffering from contact dermatitis.
Skin Salvation balm with beeswax, hemp & chamomile (from £7.99 for 30ml)
Balmonds Daily Moisturising Cream with shea butter, hemp & calendula (from £13.99 for 100ml)
Balmonds Intensive Hand Cream with sea buckthorn berry & hemp seed oil (from £10.99 for 50ml)
If you require medical advice we recommend you always contact your healthcare professional.
If you or someone you are caring for seems very unwell, is getting worse or you think there's something seriously wrong, call for emergency services straight away. For general medical advice, please contact your healthcare professional, this article does not contain or replace medical advice.
Do not delay getting help if you're worried. Trust your instincts.