Allergic Contact Dermatitis (ACD) is when the body develops an immune reaction to a substance (allergen) that comes into contact with the body. It could be a substance that you have used all your life, and the immune system reacts to a typically harmless substance or chemical. Symptoms of ACD include a rash, hives, itching and/or a burning sensation.
There is another type of contact dermatitis called irritant contact dermatitis, which occurs when you are exposed to an irritant that injures the skin (i.e., acid).
To determine if you have an allergic contact dermatitis, you will usually see a dermatologist who will perform a Skin Patch Test (SPT). This will involve placing long strips of tape on your back which contain individual wells with various chemicals. The test requires multiple visits over 3-5 days in order for the physician office to read the results. The SPT is different than an allergist's test which will evaluate for different allergies by performing a "Prick-test," which will determine your allergies to animals, dust, trees, etc. (not contact allergies).
Following the SPT at a dermatologist's office, typically they will give you a printout from the Contact Allergen Replacement Database (CARD), which will contain products that should be free of your allergens. If you use the items on the CARD printout combined with the information on this website, then you should have a good start to minimizing your exposure and maximizing your avoidance of the contact allergens.
It is not understood why certain individuals develop allergic sensitivities. Some people who have a history of seasonal allergies, asthma, atopic dermatitis, eczema, or other skin conditions are more likely to develop contact allergies. In others, repeat exposure of long periods of time to a chemical may result in the development of an allergy. Once you are sensitized (allergic) to a substance (now it is an allergen), your immune systems always "remembers" and will react when re-exposed to the agent. Remember, the substance may be something you have used for years.
There is no cure for ACD. The best way to live with the condition is to avoid the allergens as much as possible. Even if avoiding the products, it can still take the body several weeks to settle down and resolve. During that period, if you are re-exposed to the product, then it can prolong the symptoms even longer.
To help alleviate flare-ups of itching and redness, you may be advised to use over-the-counter creams, or prescribed oral medications and/or topical creams (such as steroid creams). Topical steroids will suppress the response of the immune system in the area and decrease the itching. Steroids vary in their strength and potency. Long term use of topical steroids may cause adverse side effects such as pigment changes, thinning of the skin, etc. Care should be taken when topical steroids on the face, groin, and body folds. Ensure you understand your doctor's instructions clearly and the potential side effects of any oral or topical medications.
Allergic Contact Dermatitis Information
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What is Allergic Contact Dermatitis (ACD)?
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This information is provided as educational only and is
not intended to substitute for medical care or recommendations by a physician.