Contact dermatitis

Picture of contact dermatitis

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Many rashes are caused by contact with a substance that causes an allergic reaction (contact dermatitis). The rash usually starts within 48 hours after a person is exposed to the irritating substance, but may not show up for several days. A minor case of contact dermatitis may cause mild redness of the skin or a rash of small red bumps. A more severe reaction may cause swelling, redness, and larger blisters.

Common causes of contact dermatitis include:

  • Poisonous plants, such as poison ivy, oak, or sumac.
  • Soaps, detergents, shampoos, perfumes, cosmetics, or lotions.
  • Jewelry or fabrics.
  • New tools, toys, appliances, or other objects.
  • Latex gloves. Allergy to natural rubber latex affects people who are exposed to rubber products on a regular basis, especially health care workers, rubber industry workers, and people who have had many surgeries. Latex allergies can cause a severe reaction.

Contact dermatitis does not usually occur the first time you are exposed to the irritating substance (allergen). Once you have had a reaction to the substance, a rash can occur in response to even very small amounts of the substance.

Last Updated: September 17, 2009

Author: Maria Essig

Medical Review: William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine & H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine

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