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What is Allergic Contact Dermatitis?

By HERWriter
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Contact Dermatitis related image Photo: Getty Images

A couple of years ago, I fell in love with a pair of earrings that a female character was wearing on the silver screen. After countless hours of searching on the Internet for these deliciously different earrings, I found them in London. I could not live without these earrings ... I had to have them. After paying all the various duties, they finally arrived.

Needless to say, they are my favorite earrings. After wearing them day after day, I developed an itchy bumpy rash behind my ears. I stopped wearing earrings for about a week and the rash went away.

During this time period, I happened to be at the allergist’s office for my annual check-up. He noticed the bumps while checking my ears and told me I had allergic contact dermatitis and I was more than likely allergic to nickel.

Allergic to nickel! I’ve been wearing earrings since my sixteenth birthday.

It turns out, your body may not show an immediate reaction but after repeated use, your body will begin to reject and react to the product. This can also happen with contact lens solution, nail polish remover and even the constant rubbing of your watch against your skin.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine, ʺallergic contact dermatitis, the second most common type of contact dermatitis [and it] is caused by exposure to a substance or material to which you have become extra sensitive or allergic.ʺ

Symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis include:

• Swelling of the skin
• Itching of the skin
• Tenderness of the skin in the exposed area
• Skin redness or inflammation in the exposed area
• Burning or warm feeling of the skin’s exposed area
• Skin rash

Now, the skin rash can take various forms ranging from pimple-like lesions to blisters. Also, the lesions can be scaly and raw. They can also drain and develop a crust formation.

The American Osteopathic College of Dermatology website stated ʺnickel, rubber, dyes, and poison ivy, poison oak and related plants are fairly common allergens.ʺ Also, their websites revealed paraphenylenedeamine (PPDA), which is an ingredient found in permanent hair dyes, and chromates (cement, leather, some matches, paints and anti-rust compounds) can also cause allergic dermatitis.

An allergist can run a scratch test to see what may be causing your allergic reaction.

Allergic contact dermatitis clears up and goes away after two to three weeks. In mild cases, you can try an over-the-counter anti-itch cream, corticosteroid skin cream and wet dressings to relieve your symptoms. If you have a severe case, you should contact your doctor immediately and they may prescribe a systemic corticosteroids, tacrolimus ointment or pimecrolimus cream.

Happy Holidays!


Allergic Contact Dermatitis. Welcome to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. Retrieved December 22, 2011, from http://www.aocd.org/skin/dermatologic_diseases/allergic_contact_d.html

Contact dermatitis: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. Retrieved December 22, 2011, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000869.htm

Reviewed December 22, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

Add a Comment1 Comments

I have dermatitis on my eyes and the side of my face around my nose. I finally saw a dermatologist which told me my eyes were something I was allergic to as far back as 10 days before and it is extremely hard to figure out. I have a sulfur cream for my face and a compound cream was made for my eyes. Everything I tried on my eyes stung, so it was hard to get rid of. This doctor from Mayo makes creams, so he made a cortisone cream that works on eyes. Next month I will be doing a patch test to try to figure out the thing that
causes the dermatitis. I am allergic to many foods, so I thought it was that but could not determine exactly what it was. The Dr. felt it is a chemical reaction, perfume, or product related. It is interesting that this would start when you are in your 50's.

December 29, 2011 - 9:49pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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