Contact dermatitis (also known as contact eczema) is an inflammatory non-infectious reaction of the skin to external substances and influences.
Contact dermatitis is one of the most common forms of skin disease. Around 15 to 20 per cent of the Swiss population have contact eczema in their life-time.
Contact dermatitis (also known as contact eczema) is an inflammatory intolerance of the skin to certain substances which is characterised by eczema. Numerous triggers are known. These are found, for instance, in jewellery, cosmetics, shampoos, hair dyes, disinfectants, cleaning products and various building materials. There are two different mechanisms that may result in contact dermatitis:
Allergic eczema occurs following contact with an allergen. Eczema may present within a few days of initial contact with the allergen. However, skin changes may also first occur weeks or even months after constant or repeated contact. In most cases, the allergen is a chemical, e.g.:
Allergic contact dermatitis usually heals completely when all contact with the allergen is avoided.
Non-allergic contact dermatitis, on the other hand, is not an allergic reaction but results from exposure to a skin irritant. It is about twice as common as allergic contact dermatitis and usually takes longer to develop. The hands are most commonly affected, following exposure to physical and chemical irritants:
A distinction is made between acute and chronic eczema in the allergic and non-allergic forms, based on the symptoms.
Eczema becomes chronic if the allergen continues to have an effect or the eczema fails to heal despite the sufferer avoiding contact with the allergen. Typical signs are:
It is essential to identify the cause of the contact dermatitis in consultation with the doctor. The area of skin where the irritation occurs may also indicate the allergen responsible. It may then be necessary to have skin tests (patch tests).
The diagnosis is based on a thorough examination by a specialist. In particular, the areas of skin affected, the appearance and the sufferer’s occupation may help identify the cause.
It is very important to avoid the causative irritant in both allergic and non-allergic contact dermatitis. Together with the doctor, sufferers closely examine and discuss objects, substances or activities that may be responsible. Once triggers are identified, alternatives should be sought. Avoiding substances that cause eczema helps cure the condition and prevent it becoming chronic.
Contact dermatitis is one of the most common forms of skin disease. Around 15 to 20 per cent of the Swiss population have contact dermatitis in their life-time. It may affect people in all age groups and varies in severity.