What are the Different Types of Dermatitis?

J.M. Densing
J.M. Densing
Poison ivy, which causes contact dermatitis.
Poison ivy, which causes contact dermatitis.

Dermatitis is a term that refers to itchy skin conditions that are usually accompanied by inflammation and a visible red rash. There are several types of dermatitis; although they aren't particularly dangerous, they can make a person feel miserable. The types of dermatitis include contact dermatitis from touching an irritating substance, atopic dermatitis which is thought to be caused by allergies or immune response, and seborrheic dermatitis which may be caused by oily skin. Although contact dermatitis is usually of short duration, the other two types are frequently chronic which can be managed with the assistance of a healthcare professional.

Laundry soap can cause dermatitis.
Laundry soap can cause dermatitis.

The types of dermatitis all have a few things in common. They are all characterized by itching, rashes and inflammation. They are not dangerous to a person's health; they can cause significant suffering, however. Aside from the physical discomfort, the visible rashes can cause a person to feel self-conscious and embarrassed, particularly when difficult-to-hide areas like the face and hands are affected. The symptoms of the various types of dermatitis are often difficult to control, and treatment usually requires the assistance of a medical professional.

Atopic dermatitis causes rashes and itchiness.
Atopic dermatitis causes rashes and itchiness.

Contact dermatitis is usually a short-term problem and with symptoms that develop suddenly. It's caused by direct contact of the skin with either a substance to which a person is allergic or an irritating substance such as chemicals and poisonous plants. Allergic reactions result in intense itching. When caused by an irritant, the inflammation can be quite painful. Once the source is identified, contact dermatitis is usually treated with topical creams and other medication. Symptoms may also subside on their own.

Atopic dermatitis, often referred to as eczema, is a chronic recurring condition which can be outgrown during childhood or last throughout a person's life. The cause is unknown but a link is suspected with allergies and immune response. It's characterized by a rash that is usually red, raised, and extremely itchy that can be present over a large part of the body or localized to a few spots. Flare-ups can be caused by many factors including stress, weather changes, or rough clothing. It can usually be treated and controlled with frequent use of moisturizers and topical corticosteroid medications.

Another type of dermatitis is sebhorreic dermatitis, which is thought to be connected to factors including oily skin and stress. The inflammation is itchy with red patches, and is characterized by yellowish to whitish crusting, scaling, or flaking of the affected areas. It commonly occurs in infants as cradle cap. Parts of the body such as the scalp, between folds of skin, and areas that tend to be oily are most often affected. Treatments commonly include medicated shampoos and anti-fungal or mild corticosteroid creams and ointments. At times, the condition clears up permanently, but it often re-occurs periodically.

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    • Poison ivy, which causes contact dermatitis.
      Poison ivy, which causes contact dermatitis.
    • Laundry soap can cause dermatitis.
      Laundry soap can cause dermatitis.
    • Atopic dermatitis causes rashes and itchiness.
      Atopic dermatitis causes rashes and itchiness.