The Allergens and Irritants Behind Itchy Skin

What could be the reason for skin that’s inflamed, itchy, dotted with bumps or blisters?

According to the September issue of Mayo Clinic Women’s HealthSource, it could be contact dermatitis, caused by exposure to an allergen or simply something that irritates the skin.

Irritants can include soaps and detergents. Even plain water can irritate skin with frequent hand washing.

If the culprit is an allergy, the skin doesn’t usually react to the first exposure. It can take many exposures for the skin to become sensitive. So, your favorite earrings could be causing the problem. The most common allergens are nickel, a metal commonly used in jewelry, buttons, hooks and zippers; and gold, a precious metal used in jewelry.

Both allergic and irritant contact dermatitis may appear on your hands. But allergic contact dermatitis - along with other skin conditions such as psoriasis - may be suspected if you develop a rash on your scalp, neck, earlobes, eyelids, lips or underarms.

Your primary doctor or a dermatologist often can base a diagnosis on your skin’s appearance and your recent history of contact with allergens and irritants. If no allergen or irritant is apparent, and your symptoms become chronic, patch testing may be advised. In this procedure, small amounts of different allergens are applied, usually to your back to see how your skin reacts.

Identifying and avoiding an allergen or irritant is the primary treatment. Topical creams containing hydrocortisone or a wet dressing also may be recommended to relieve redness, itching and discomfort. Oral medications may be needed for severe reactions.

Don’t expect overnight results. Even with strict allergen or irritant avoidance, contact dermatitis may take weeks or months to clear up.

Source: Mayo Clinic

Provided by ArmMed Media
Revision date: July 9, 2011
Last revised: by Janet A. Staessen, MD, PhD