Many Americans live with allergies every day, but they often take the form of minor symptoms resulting from atmospheric irritants. Contact dermatitis is a particularly frustrating form of allergy caused by direct contact between exposed skin and the substance that you are allergic too. Symptoms can vary slightly between individuals, but contact dermatitis usually takes the form of an itchy, red rash. In some cases, the outbreak may include small, hive-like bumps. Regardless of the exact symptoms, contact dermatitis is almost always uncomfortable and irritating.

Recognizing Contact Dermatitis

Since the reaction to allergenic substances can vary from person to person, it is sometimes hard to realize that you have an allergy at all. Rashes can come from a variety of sources, so a rash that resolves and never returns may not indicate a severe allergy. In general, you should suspect an allergy if you find that you are breaking out repeatedly, especially if the breakouts seem to be limited to specific areas on your body. A rash that appears, heals, and then returns in the same general can be an indication that you may have an allergy to a piece of jewelry or clothing that is commonly in contact with that section of skin.

Likewise, some broad symptoms are common. Most cases of contact allergies result in redness, but breakouts of hives are not unusual. In more severe cases, the rash may contain fluid-filled blisters, or the skin around the rash may dry out. Surprisingly, these symptoms often do not dissipate rapidly once exposure to the allergenic substance ends. Instead, symptoms from contact dermatitis can sometimes last several weeks, providing an opportunity for the allergy to flare up again if exposure is resumed.

Should You Get Tested?

Dermatologists and most doctors will be able to recognize contact dermatitis very quickly. Merely identifying that a rash is the result of contact with a substance is not enough for a plan of action, however. If you were not recently in contact with common irritants such as poison ivy, then your dermatologist may recommend a patch test. As the name implies, this test involves placing several patches containing potential allergies against your skin. Patch tests can be extensive (involving many potential allergens) or narrow, depending on whether your dermatologist believes that they understand the cause of your reaction.

In general, getting tested for skin allergies is a good idea if you find that you are repeatedly developing rashes. Although contact dermatitis is not a severe problem, it can be irritating and difficult to live with. If your outbreaks are showing up in particularly inconvenient locations or spread over a wide area, then it can even become a debilitating problem. Having a patch test performed by your doctor or a specialist is the best way to determine the underlying cause of your reactions so that you can make whatever adjustments are necessary to avoid future outbreaks.