This is an umbrella term, used to describe a range of skin conditions which are characterised by a skin rash. This rash varies according to the type of dermatitis although there are some symptoms which are common to all varieties of this complaint.

Types of dermatitis

There are several types of dermatitis which include:

Plus there is a form of dermatitis called infective dermatitis which occurs as a result of another skin condition.

Atopic dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is a very common condition which occurs in boys and girls, men and women and presents as a red, itchy and inflamed rash.

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis occurs as a result of handling an irritant or an allergen and also causes a red, itchy rash. This may lead to painful, cracked skin and blisters which weep fluid.

Seborrheic dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis affects the face, scalp and body and occurs in both teenagers and adults. It mainly affects men and anyone with an autoimmune disorder. This condition is characterised by a red, flaky, itchy rash which can be painful.

Nummular dermatitis

This is a less well known form of dermatitis which mainly affects older people. It presents as a series of oval shaped lesions which develop on the legs and buttocks and are dry and scaly in appearance.

Perioral dermatitis

This form of dermatitis mainly occurs in women between the ages of 25 and 45. It is more common than many people realise and re-occurs on occasions. It presents as small red spots around the mouth, eyes and nose and looks very similar to an acne outbreak.

Are dermatitis and eczema the same condition?

They are often interchanged with each other. There are different types of dermatitis and different kinds of eczema so it is easy to mistake the two. Dermatitis is often seen as an acute skin condition whereas eczema is considered a chronic condition.

There are crossovers between the two due to the fact that many of these occur as an allergic reaction.

Causes of dermatitis

There are several causes of dermatitis which include:

  • Irritants
  • Allergens
  • Genetics
  • Medical conditions
  • Certain medications such as topical creams
  • Stress

Dermatitis can be caused by another skin condition, for example psoriasis.

Symptoms of dermatitis

Dermatitis is characterised by a skin rash. But the form this rash takes depends upon the type of dermatitis. A skin rash will range from small red spots to larger bumps and blisters which develop in clusters and cause redness and itching of the infected area.

Other symptoms include soreness, dry flaky skin and a burning sensation on the skin. Blisters may form which contain a fluid which oozes out if the blisters are rubbed or scratched. This may result in scarring.

Itching, inflammation and soreness apply to all forms of dermatitis.

The symptoms vary according to the type of condition and this also applies to the extent. The type of dermatitis determines the presentation of the rash and what areas of the body it covers. Some types of dermatitis appear on the face, neck and hands whereas others develop on the body.

Diagnosing dermatitis

If you have a skin rash which appears to be dermatitis then visit your GP. He or she will formulate a diagnosis from observation of your rash and your medical history. You will also be asked a series of questions about this rash – the first signs, the size and extent of the spots or lesions and whether it was accompanied by other symptoms, e.g. nausea.

The reason for asking these questions is to determine if there is an underlying medical condition which is the cause of the rash rather than dermatitis. Conditions such as Parkinson’s disease cause dermatitis along with other effects and this must be checked to see if this is the primary cause.

You may be referred for tests if applicable which may include a session with a dermatologist. This depends upon the type of dermatitis you have and the severity.

Treatment for dermatitis

This depends upon the type of dermatitis. But there are symptoms which are the same across all versions of this condition, e.g. dry, scaly skin. Dry skin is a primary factor and as such, needs to be kept moisturised with emollients and topical remedies.

Corticosteroids can help as can antihistamines and cold compresses.

Another option is light (UV) treatment such as phototherapy and intense pulsed light therapy. Find out more about these and other treatments in our dermatology treatments section.

Self help?

There are a few things you can do to manage your condition. If you have been diagnosed with contact dermatitis then avoid touching or handling anything which triggers a flare up of your condition.

Use barrier creams to prevent your skin from drying out which often leads to a flare up. Use special cleansers, soaps and moisturisers which lubricate the skin rather than stripping it of essential oils and other substances.

If your diet has caused your condition then avoid certain foods which trigger an outbreak or cause an allergic reaction. Look at your lifestyle to see if there are steps you can take to improve things, for instance, reducing your stress levels and caffeine intake.

Your GP will advise you about this.