Derma-What?!

July 20, 2010
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Even though the temperatures can often be stifling, someone has to get out and clean up your yard and garden this summer, so it might be that you find yourself spending this Saturday afternoon outside fulfilling those “yardly duties” of yours! One of the most commonly seen problems in patients who spend weekends tending their property is Contact Dermatitis. “Derma” meaning skin and “itis” meaning inflammation takes the guess work out of deciphering the meaning of Dermatitis. Thus, Contact Dermatitis is inflammation of the skin caused by the skin coming in contact with some object. Usually the skin reaction takes the form of a rash, sometimes in exactly the shape of the offending agent and other times spreading up the legs or arms leaving the patient questioning what it was that reacted with their skin. It can be itchy, painful or even burn and sometimes patients have symptoms of all three! It makes for a very uncomfortable few weeks as the rash clears, thus prevention in key.

Most people know what poison ivy is and that it causes a significant itchy rash in some patients when encountered. Other patients, not so much! Poison ivy is a form of Contact Dermatitis knows as “Allergic Contact Dermatitis.” When it comes in contact with the skin, in some patients it initiates a response by the body much the same as would occur in an allergic reaction to something that you’ve eaten. The only difference in this case, is that the trigger for the response was external (poison ivy plant) rather than internal (peanuts for example). The bodies immune system over-reacts to the poison ivy that has contacted the skin and cells are released that form the itchy rash we often associate with this plant. Other materials that commonly cause an Allergic Contact Dermatitis include nickel (found in jewelry), latex, hair dyes and shampoos or skin lotions containing fragrances.

In contrast to Allergic Contact Dermatitis, Irritant Contact Dermatitis does not initiate a response from the immune system. This reaction is simply a skin reaction that progresses the longer the skin is in contact with the offending agent. The most common cause includes household detergents and the reaction usually takes on the feeling of burning on the skin, rather than an itchy rash.

Deciphering between allergic and irritant forms of dermatitis can be difficult, but the good news is that both forms are usually treated in much the same way. Be sure that if you know you’ve come in contact with a material that reacts with your skin, you wash the areas immediately with cool water and soap, being careful not to increase the size of the area contacted. Cold compresses can help in situations where blistering has developed and the use of calamine lotion or over the counter anti-histamines (benadryl) can help relieve itching. Over the counter hydrocortisone creams can also help calm the skin reaction and alleviate symptoms quicker than without such creams, although the rash will resolve on its own over several weeks. If over the counter agents don’t seem to be doing the trick, seek out your physician, who can prescribe topicals that are slightly stronger, but accomplish the same tasks. Rashes on the legs and feet are well within the scope of your Podiatrist, so head to their office if symptoms persist!

Prevention is simple: don’t garden or tend to the yard! Although that might sound nice, unfortunately, avoiding the yard may not be an option, but there are some other steps you can take to protect yourself and your skin. Wearing pants, or long-sleeved shirts with gloves on your hands is the best option for protecting your extremities, in addition to wearing closed-toed sneakers or gardening shoes, however, all that clothing can be constricting and hot! Therefore, if you’re able to get up a little early this weekend, get out to the yard first thing before the temperatures have climbed up into the 90’s. You’ll be finished your work long before the temperatures rise, leaving the rest of the afternoon for lounging by the pool. In addition, if you’re one of the lucky ones and you know which plants or weeds in your yard induce a reaction in you avoid them and wait for another family member to come along and help you!

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