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Common Ailments

Contact Dermatitis

What is it?
Contact dermatitis is an inflammation of the skin resulting from contact with an irritating substance. Many things can cause contact dermatitis including jewelry, soaps/detergents, new clothes, poison ivy, oak, and sumac plants, etc.

What are the symptoms?
The major symptom is a red, itchy, occasionally blistering rash which occurs within 2 to 3 days after contact with the irritating surface.

Does it spread?
No. However, it may take longer for some skin areas to break out than others. Also, if the irritating substance touches a new location on your body, you will likely find the symptoms of contact dermatitis at the new location.

What can you do?
Avoid substances that have caused your contact dermatitis in the past. If poison ivy, oak, or sumac caused your problem, be sure to bathe or shower immediately and launder the clothes you wore at the time of contact. If your pet was with you at the time of contact, you may want to bathe it too. This will prevent the plant residue remaining on your clothing or on animal hair from affecting new areas on your body.

Cool showers or moist compresses: These help reduce itching and swelling.

DO NOT SCRATCH: This only causes more itching and might lead to an infection.


- Aspirin (600 mg; 2 regular strength tablets) or acetaminophen (650 mg.) every 4-6 hours to reduce itching.
- Hydrocortisone cream which you can purchase without a prescription at a drug store may help reduce inflammation.
- Antihistamines (diphenhydramine, for example) can also help reduce itching. However, they may make you drowsy, and should not be taken if you plan to drink alcohol, drive, or operate power tools.

Consult Health Care Personnel

- if you are unsure of the cause of your rash.
- if the rash does not begin improving within 2 weeks.
- if the rash involves the face (especially eyes) or genitals.
- if you develop other symptoms with the rash, (for example, fever, sore throat, shortness of breath).
- anytime you are unsure of what to do.

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