Contact dermatitis is a common skin inflammation caused by direct contact with an irritating substance. Nearly everyone has some form of allergy or sensitivity to specific substances. The only problem is that we are usually unaware of this susceptibility until we are exposed to it and suffer the ill effects. Contact dermatitis is a common skin inflammation caused by direct contact with an irritating substance. Itching swelling redness and scaling characterize this inflammation. The eyelids and conjunctiva are particularly susceptible to contact dermatitis because they are constantly exposed to irritants through rubbing and touching. These tissues are prone to swelling because they are thin loose and have a rich blood supply.
There are two different types of contact dermatitis. If an irritating or harsh substance like bleach or detergent causes the reaction then it is known as primary irritant contact dermatitis. If it is an allergic reaction to a substance like latex soap or perfume then it is called allergic contact dermatitis. Both types share similar symptoms and treatments.
Irritant contact dermatitis occurs when a chemical substance causes direct damage to the skin. Typical irritating substances are acids alkalis (such as drain cleaners) solvents (such as acetone in nail polish remover) and strong soaps. Some of these chemicals cause skin changes within a few minutes whereas others require longer exposure. People vary in the sensitivity of their skin to irritants. Even very mild soaps and detergents may irritate the skin of some people after frequent or prolonged contact.
Allergic contact dermatitis is a reaction by the body s immune system to a substance contacting the skin. Sometimes a person can be sensitized by only one exposure and at other times sensitization occurs only after many exposures to a substance. After a person is sensitized the next exposure causes itching and dermatitis within 4 to 24 hours although some people particularly older people do not develop a reaction for 3 to 4 days. Thousands of substances can result in allergic contact dermatitis. The most common include substances found in plants such as poison ivy rubber (latex) antibiotics fragrances make-up preservatives and some metals. People may use (or be exposed to) substances for years without a problem and suddenly develop an allergic reaction. Even ointments creams and lotions used to treat dermatitis can cause such a reaction. If repeated episodes of contact dermatitis occur an allergy patch test is recommended. These painless tests help determine your allergies and sensitivities to certain substances via exposure to small amounts.
Until you can conclusively discover what substance is causing your reaction it is relatively simple to care for any irritation and discomfort. Apply cool damp compresses to your eye to soothe the itching and burning (remember – scratching only makes it worse). Try not to use soap lotion and make-up – especially perfumed or scented versions – around your affected eye or on your skin. In the likely event that the skin around the eye becomes dry use a low alcohol content moisturizer like Vaseline to relieve it. Do not under any circumstances use alcohol or antiseptic lotions on the affected area. Should your doctor prescribe antihistamines or corticosteroid cream to treat the inflammation make sure you take/apply the medication as prescribed. Simple avoidance is the optimal prevention and treatment method. Contact your eye care practitioner if the symptoms persist despite avoidance of all substances around the eye.
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