Dermatitis symptoms, causes and treatment

Dermatitis is a medical term referring to skin inflammation. When you have dermatitis, your skin is dry, red, and swollen. The causes for it vary depending on the type of condition that you have. On the other hand, it is not contagious. 

Table of Medications


Having this type of skin condition can be extremely uncomfortable for many. The itchiness that your skin feels range from mild to severe. More so, there are types of skin conditions that can last for an extended period, while others experience only a short flare-up depending on the season or exposure. 

Some kinds of dermatitis are more prevalent in children and others that are more common in adults. You may find treatment for dermatitis through medication and home relief.  

If your skin becomes infected, painful, or comfortable, contact your doctor. These symptoms mean that your condition is widespread or is not getting better.  

Symptoms of Dermatitis 

Dermatitis symptoms vary depending on its severity and will look different from one case to another. There are also people with this condition that do not have any symptoms at all. Depending on which part is affected, you may have any of the following symptoms: 

  • Blisters
  • Rashes
  • Itchy Skin
  • Dry, cracked skin
  • Redness
  • Itchy skin
  • Swelling
  • Painful skin with burning or stinging feeling

Different Types of Dermatitis

Dermatitis also has different types that affect different people. Here are some of the common.

Contact Dermatitis – This condition happens when a substance gets in contact with your skin and leads to irritation or allergic reaction. This condition can further develop into rashes that blister, burn, itch, or sting.  

Atopic Dermatitis – also known as eczema. This condition is usually genetic and can develop during infancy. A person with eczema will experience having patches of skin that are dry and itchy. 

Seborrheic Dermatitis – in babies, this condition is the typical “cradle cap.” This type of dermatitis often affects the scalp, but it may also occur on the chest and face. A person with this condition experiences scaly patches of red skin and dandruff. 

Dyshidrotic Dermatitis – people with this type of condition have skin that can’t protect itself. It affects the feet and hands, and often it results in dry, itchy skin with small blisters.  

The Causes of Dermatitis

Dermatitis has different causes depending on its type. Here are some of the causes of the common ones: 

Contact Dermatitis 

Irritation occurs when a person has direct contact with the allergen or irritant. For some, even the most common material can start an allergic reaction. These materials include 

  • Cosmetics
  • Detergent
  • Nickel
  • Oak and Poison Ivy


Eczema, on the other hand, is a condition caused by several factors. You may experience a combination of dry skin, bacterial reaction on the skin and environmental setting. It is often genetic, and people with this skin problem have relatives that also have eczema, asthma, or allergies. 

Seborrheic Dermatitis

This skin condition is likely to be due to the presence of fungus in the oil glands. It gets worse during winter and spring. Moreover, this type of dermatitis seems to have a genetic risk factor for many people.

Stasis Dermatitis 

This type of dermatitis affects areas of the body with poor blood circulation. It commonly occurs in the lower legs and feet. 

Common Triggers

Dermatitis is caused by a trigger that leads you to have a skin reaction. It could be due to the environment, a substance, or something in your body. The common triggers that cause dermatitis flare-up are:

  • Hormonal changes
  • Environment and weather changes
  • Stress
  • Irritating Substances 

Diagnosis and Treatment

In diagnosing dermatitis, the doctor will discuss your medical history and perform several physical examinations. A dermatologist can diagnose the kind of dermatitis you have based on how the symptoms appear. 

If you suspect that you are having some allergic reaction to something, your doctor will conduct a skin patch test. With this test, your doctor will apply small amounts of different substances on your skin. They will check for reactions after a few days and determine what your allergies are.  

Additionally, your dermatologist may also conduct a skin biopsy to figure out the cause of your skin problem. It involves the removal of a small sample of the affected skin. They will look at this sample under the microscope. 

Another type of test that doctors can initiate is the KHO test. In this test, samples of skin or nails are mixed in a solution of potassium hydroxide. Then, it will be examined under a microscope to identify any underlying infection causing dermatitis.  

There are some types of dermatitis with symptoms that are similar to other kinds of skin conditions. Doctors may conduct a differential diagnosis to rule out other conditions like rosacea or psoriasis. 

Other tests can be conducted on the skin samples to help determine the cause of your skin conditions. 

Dermatitis Treatment Options 

Depending on the type of dermatitis that you have, the severity of your symptoms and the underlying cause, doctors may give you several treatment options. In most cases, dermatitis may clear up on its own after a couple of weeks. If the symptoms persist, your doctor may recommend any of the following options.

  • Medication to lessen itching and allergies such as antihistamine like diphenhydramine.
  • Topical creams containing steroid such as hydrocortisone to give relief to inflammation and itchiness. 
  • Phototherapy or the use of controlled amounts of light to affected areas. It is done by exposing your skin with dermatitis to this light therapy. 
  • Oatmeal baths to reduce itching
  • Use of lotions and creams for dry skin

If an infection develops, doctors may recommend antifungal or antibiotics medication. Infections may happen when your skin is broken due to severe scratching. 

Lifestyle Changes and Home Remedies 

To help you manage your dermatitis, you can make any of these self-care habits and feel relief from your symptoms. 

  • Moisturizing your skin – if you have dermatitis, you must keep your skin moisturized, especially if you have a seasonal condition. Use a product with high oil content to help your skin. 
  • Take a Warm Bath – add a sprinkle of colloidal oats of baking soda to your bathwater. Soak for five to ten minutes to soothe itchiness after bathing, pat dry skin, and apply moisturizer while it is still damp. 
  • Medicated Shampoo – use OTC shampoo for dandruff problem. Choose products with active ingredients such as ketoconazole, selenium sulfide, coal tar, and zinc pyrithione.  
  • Diluted Bleach Bath – for people with severe atopic dermatitis, doing a dilute bleach bath can help decrease bacteria on the skin.  You can use half a cup of household bleach (not the concentrated type) or one cup of vinegar to a warm-water filled bathtub.   
  • Minimize Scratching and Rubbing – trim nails, wear a glove at night, and cover the itchy area with dressing to keep you from scratching it.  
  • Use Cotton Clothing – cotton clothing has a smooth texture, which will not irritate the affected area.  On the other hand, avoid wool as it can cause flare-up after removing clothing that directly touched the skin.  
  • Go for Mild Laundry Detergent – clothing, towels, linens touches your skin too, thus be sure to choose mild and unscented products to avoid irritants.
  • Avoid allergens and irritants – if you know what causes your dermatitis, it is best to avoid them to prevent future flare-ups.   
  • Relax and avoid stressors – in some cases, dermatitis occurs when you are stressed. Try out stress management techniques like yoga, massage, and acupuncture.   

Alternative Medications 

There are also alternative therapies that help people with dermatitis in managing their condition. However, the effectiveness of these methods is not conclusive. Here are some suggested methods and treatment. 

  • Aloe vera for seborrheic dermatitis
  • Rice bran broth for atopic dermatitis
  • Chinese herbal therapy
  • Five percent tea tree oil shampoo for the treatment of dandruff
  • Taking dietary supplements and prebiotics 

Additionally, you can make some dietary changes and eliminate foods that may trigger a dermatitis flare-up. But if you are thinking of pursuing these alternative methods, talk to your doctor about your treatment plans first.  

What are Normal Conditions? 

Dermatitis can affect anyone. There is no specific gender or age group that is more prone to dermatitis, though some types are more common in children while others occur in adults. 

There is no specific cure for this skin condition, and treatment available is only for the management of symptoms or to address its underlying cause. If you have dermatitis, the first step in avoiding it is to avoid the triggers. Keep away from allergens or substances that can cause a flare-up. Here are some tips to keep things in normal conditions:

  • Avoid scratching the affected area to prevent skin breakage and spread of bacteria.
  • Prevent skin from drying by using mild soaps, using warm water, and use of a moisturizer. 
  • Opt for a water-based moisturizer for a normal skin condition and oil-based for severely dry skin.  

Risks of Having Dermatitis

Your risks for having this skin condition increases with the following risk factors:

  • Age – dermatitis can affect anybody; however, atopic dermatitis can start during infancy.
  • Asthma and allergies – people with a history of allergies, eczema or asthma, are more prone to develop atopic dermatitis
  • Occupation – people working in high risks areas such as those with metal solvents and cleaning supplies are more prone to having dermatitis. 
  • Health conditions – if you have health conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, congestive heart failure, or HIV/AIDS, you are more prone to having some types of dermatitis. 

When to Seek Medical Attention

If you have dermatitis and you experience these symptoms, see your doctor immediately 

  • Painful skin
  • Skin infections
  • Severe discomfort that is causing you to lose sleep and distracts you from daily routine
  • Signs and symptoms persist after self-care steps