Apply a cool compress several times a day to soothe the itch. You can also take a prescription or nonprescription antihistamine, such as diphenhydramine (Advil PM, Benadryl). You may want to try an oatmeal bath.
- Avoid the Cause
The best way to prevent contact dermatitis in the future is to avoid whatever substance caused your initial reaction. Whether it’s poison ivy that causes red bumps or nickel found in jewelry that leads to swollen, itchy fingers, contact dermatitis symptoms usually only appear on areas of skin exposed to the allergen. However, they can sometimes spread to other parts of the body as a delayed reaction or because multiple body areas touch the same allergen at the same time.
Your doctor can help you determine what might be causing your contact dermatitis by examining the affected area and asking questions about your work, hobbies, use of cleaning and cosmetic products, jewelry and metals that you wear, and any other substances with which you come into regular contact. Depending on the severity of your case, your doctor may also want to remove a small sample of skin and run tests to confirm a diagnosis.
If you’re able to identify the irritant or allergen that caused your rash, make sure to stay away from it at all times to help speed up the healing process and prevent your symptoms from returning. Your doctor may also prescribe creams or, in rare cases, oral medication to ease itching and reduce swelling. You should also refrain from scratching the rash, as this can cause it to spread.
When you touch a substance to which you are allergic, your immune system responds as if your skin is under attack and makes antibodies to fight the invader. That causes a chain reaction that results in itchy and red rashes.
Sometimes a simple, at-home regimen is enough to clear the rash. It is important to avoid the irritant or allergen that caused it, and daily use of moisturizing cream can help restore the skin’s protective barrier and keep it from getting too dry and itchy.
For the most severe cases, you can also soak in a cool bath with uncooked oatmeal or baking soda to soothe and relieve itching. Do not use eucalyptus or peppermint oils, as they can cause the rash to itch and burn even more. Avoid scratching the rash, as it can break the skin and cause an infection. Instead, cover it with a loose cloth or bandage and use a fragrance-free or hypoallergenic moisturizer several times a day.
If you are not sure what the cause is, you can keep a log of when and where you had contact with the substance that triggered your dermatitis. That will help you figure out what is causing it. You should also bring all of the personal products that you use with you to the doctor’s office so they can be examined.
- Take an Antihistamine
When you have a big, itchy splotch on your face, the first thing you should do is wash it off. It’s possible the rash is caused by contact dermatitis — a skin reaction that’s either an allergy or an irritant. It usually happens when you touch something that removes the natural oils that keep your skin from being too dry or from reacting to things like pollen, perfumes, soaps, detergents, and other chemicals. It’s also common for contact dermatitis to happen after exposure to the sun, especially when you have a condition like eczema.
If the rash is due to an allergic reaction, your immune system will trigger a response when you touch the allergen again. That causes a release of chemicals including histamine, which causes itching and redness. If you have a severe reaction, an antihistamine will help calm your symptoms.
Your doctor will take a history of your symptoms and examine the rash. She or he may do patch testing to identify what you’re allergic to. In some cases, the rash is so severe that oral steroids are needed. These are typically only given for a short course of time to reduce inflammation and itching. You may also need to use a topical steroid, such as pimecrolimus (Protopic) or tacrolimus (Elidel), which can be applied directly to the skin.
- See Your Doctor
Depending on the severity of your rash and how much it is bothering you, you may be able to make an appointment with your primary care provider or a doctor who specializes in skin disorders (dermatologist). If you are not sure what is causing the contact dermatitis, keep a log of your symptoms, including when they began, how long they have lasted and any factors that seem to affect them, such as cold weather or taking a shower for a long time.
In some cases, a patch test can help your doctor pinpoint the allergen that’s causing your contact dermatitis. This involves putting small amounts of potential allergens, such as metals on jewelry snaps and buckles, shampoos, soaps, cosmetics or other chemicals, onto sticky patches. The patches are worn on your skin for a few days, while your doctor looks for any reaction.
Your doctor can also prescribe topical medications to help treat your contact dermatitis. You might get prescription corticosteroids that reduce swelling, such as tacrolimus ointment (Protopic) or pimecrolimus cream (Elidel). In addition, your doctor may give you an oral antihistamine to reduce itching. If your rash is severe, a steroid injection may be necessary. In very rare cases, your doctor might recommend light therapy, which uses different wavelengths of ultraviolet light to decrease itching and inflammation.