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Allergic Contact Dermatitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Allergic Contact Dermatitis: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

You might be dealing with contact dermatitis if you have itchy and red skin. Dr. Eddie, a pediatrician, often deals with skin irritation cases, and the most common one is atopic dermatitis

However, another common skin issue he sees is contact dermatitis. This common type of eczema happens when your skin comes into contact with a chemical or physical substance, causing redness and itchiness.

There are two types of contact dermatitis: Irritant Contact Dermatitis and Allergic Contact Dermatitis. In this blog, we will concentrate on allergic contact dermatitis, its symptoms, causes, and effective ways to manage it.

What is Allergic Contact Dermatitis?

Allergic contact dermatitis is a delayed type IV hypersensitivity skin reaction that occurs when you come into repeat contact with a substance you have become allergic to. This condition usually results in a red, itchy rash that may involve scaling, cracking, blistering, and developing thick, leathery skin patches known as lichenification.

The sensitization process begins when your body is exposed once before to an allergen, like poison ivy, even without your awareness.  And then upon re-exposure there is a reaction. This means your body produces specific T-cells to respond to the allergen. 

Allergic contact dermatitis is common and affects up to 1 in 5 people. While it can impact individuals of any age, those with eczema in childhood might be more prone to developing it.

Symptoms of Allergic Contact Dermatitis

These can appear within 48 hours of contact with the triggering substance but can take about 4 days to appear. These symptoms can last for several weeks, even after removing the allergen. Common symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis include

  • Red rash.
  • Itching.
  • Small blisters, which may ooze.
  • Dry, scaly patches.
  • Areas of cracked skin.
  • Burning sensation without visible sores.

Causes of ACD

If you have allergic contact dermatitis, your body will trigger an immune system response, resulting in itchy and irritated skin when exposed to a substance in your environment that it has been sensitized to in the past. This happens because T-cells in your body recognize an antigen (the irritating portion of an ingredient) on the skin’s surface. 

As a result, cytokines (inflammatory particles in the body) are released, activating the immune system and causing dermatitis. In simpler terms, allergic contact dermatitis occurs when your immune system mistakenly treats a harmless substance as a threat.

It is essential to know that people with atopic dermatitis and a deficiency in filaggrin are more likely to develop allergic contact dermatitis. It can be caused by various allergens, such as:

  • Nickel and other metals.
  • Poison ivy or poison oak.
  • Rubber or latex products.
  • Antibiotics.
  • Clothing.
  • The fragrance used in perfumes and cosmetics.
  • Tattoo ink.
  • Hair dyes.


Diagnosing allergic contact dermatitis involves a detailed evaluation by a healthcare provider. They will start by discussing your medical history, symptoms, and possible exposure to allergens. Then they will examine the affected skin, checking for signs like redness, itching, blisters, and scaling. 

Sometimes, a patch test is performed to know which allergens are causing the reaction. In patch testing, small amounts of suspected allergens are applied to the skin using adhesive patches. The patches stay in place, and the skin’s response is observed.

Through careful assessment and appropriate testing, healthcare providers can diagnose allergic contact dermatitis and create a personalized treatment plan for you.

Allergic Contact Dermatitis Treatment

To effectively manage allergic contact dermatitis, it is essential to identify and avoid the specific allergen responsible for the sensitivity. If you are allergic to poison ivy, it is a good idea to cover your body with long sleeves shirt and pants while going out. 

For mild rashes, OTC anti-itch hydrocortisone 1% cream or ointment can be used. Also avoid drying the skin out. Dry skin is itchy skin. 

Use an irritant-free moisturizing eczema cream at least twice daily, one that does not contain common sensitizing ingredients like Happy Cappy Moisturizing Cream. It was voted 100% by SkinSafe, a website, dedicated to those with allergic contact dermatitis.

This cream will help protect and soothe the skin barrier as it contains pharmaceutical grade petrolatum and Licorice Root Extract, a natural ingredient known for its redness-soothing properties.

However in many cases, a doctor may need to prescribe topical and oral steroids to reduce inflammation and itching. 

When to See a Doctor?

If you’re worried about your symptoms, the itch is uncontrollable, the rash won’t go away, or you have signs of infection on your skin, such as blisters oozing cloudy or yellow pus, or if the rash is spreading or getting worse, call your doctor. If your healthcare provider suspects allergic contact dermatitis, they may refer you to an allergy specialist.


In conclusion, if you experience persistent itching, redness, or rashes on your skin, it’s essential to consider the possibility of contact dermatitis, particularly allergic contact dermatitis (ACD). 

It is a common type of eczema that occurs when your skin comes into contact with substances you are allergic to. To manage allergic contact dermatitis effectively, it’s essential to identify and avoid the allergen causing the sensitivity. 

If you have persistent symptoms or concerns about your skin, seeking medical attention and diagnosis from a healthcare provider is essential. If you or anyone in your family suffers from eczema, try using the Happy Cappy Two-Step Eczema Skincare Routine to soothe dry, itchy, irritated Eczema Prone Skin.


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Dr. Eddie Valenzuela is an award winning pediatrician and the founder and CEO of Pediatric Solutions, LLC.

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How is allergic contact dermatitis different from irritant contact dermatitis?

Irritant contact dermatitis is a local reaction that occurs when the skin directly touches an irritating substance.
On the other hand, allergic contact dermatitis, the focus of this article, is an allergic reaction triggered by the immune system's response (T-cells) to a specific allergen that a person has been sensitized to in the past.

How long does it take for symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis to appear after exposure to the allergen?

Symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis can occur within a few hours to 4 days after contact with the triggering allergen.

What are other complications of allergic contact dermatitis?

The most common complication of allergic contact dermatitis is a very itchy and dramatically irritated and blistered rash. Scratching at your rash or blisters can introduce bacteria to your skin, leading to an infection.

What causes allergic contact dermatitis?

Allergic contact dermatitis is caused by your immune system (T-cells) reacting to an allergen, mistaking it as harmful. Common allergens include nickel, poison ivy, latex, fragrances, and certain medications.

What should I do if I have allergic contact dermatitis?

If you suspect you have allergic contact dermatitis and experience persistent symptoms, it's essential to seek medical attention from a healthcare provider. They can provide a proper diagnosis, treat the acute rash, refer to a specialist to find the offending allergen, and create a personalized treatment plan.

Can children develop allergic contact dermatitis?

Yes, children can develop allergic contact dermatitis. If you suspect your child has allergic contact dermatitis, consult a pediatrician or healthcare professional for appropriate care.

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