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WellConnect - Columbus Regional Health

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Contact Dermatitis in Children

Contact Dermatitis in Children

What is contact dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis is a skin reaction from contact with certain substances. The substances may be:

  • Irritants. These cause inflammation of the skin. They are the most common cause of contact dermatitis. 
  • Allergens. These cause the body's immune system to have an allergic reaction. The body releases defense chemicals that cause skin symptoms. Allergens are not a common cause of contact dermatitis.                      

What causes contact dermatitis?

Common irritants that can cause contact dermatitis in children include:

  • Soaps and detergents
  • Spit (saliva)
  • Urine in a diaper
  • Lotions and perfumes

Common allergens that can cause contact dermatitis in children include:

  • Poison ivy, oak, and sumac. These are plants with oil that causes skin allergies.
  • Metals. These include nickel, chrome, and mercury. Nickel is found in costume jewelry, belt buckles, and wristwatches, as well as zippers, snaps, and hooks on clothing. Chrome-plated items may also contain nickel. Mercury is found in contact lens solutions. It may cause problems for some children.
  • Latex. Latex is found in products such as rubber toys, balloons, balls, rubber gloves, and pacifiers or nipples. It may also be used in bandage adhesive.
  • Cosmetics. Products include dyes used in hair color, clothing, perfumes, eye shadow, nail polish, lipstick, and some sunscreens.
  • Medicines. Neomycin may also cause contact dermatitis. It’s found in some kinds of antibiotic cream and local anesthetic.

Who is at risk for contact dermatitis?

Contact dermatitis can occur in any child. If your child has atopic dermatitis (eczema), he or she is at increased risk for contact dermatitis.

What are the symptoms of contact dermatitis?

Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. The skin may be:

  • Painful
  • Red
  • Swollen
  • Itchy
  • Dry, cracked, peeling
  • Bleeding
  • Oozing, draining, crusting
  • Blistering

Symptoms are usually worse where the substance came in contact with the skin. Larger areas may also be affected. The symptoms of contact dermatitis can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is contact dermatitis diagnosed?

The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He or she will give your child a skin exam. The provider will also ask about recent contact with any irritants or allergens. Your child may also have tests, such as skin tests or blood tests. Your child may need to see a doctor who treats allergies (allergist) or skin (dermatologist).

How is contact dermatitis treated?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

Treatment may include:

  • Washing your child’s skin with soap and water as soon as possible after contact. Make sure to wash all areas, including the face, neck, hands, and in between the fingers.
  • Using wet, cold cloths (compresses) on the skin. This is to help lessen symptoms and relieve inflammation.
  • Using wet dressings for oozing areas. They may help decrease itching and improve healing. Ask your child's healthcare provider or nurse for instructions. 
  • Putting corticosteroid cream or ointment on the skin. This may help to lessen itching and other symptoms. The cream or ointment may be over the counter or prescription.
  • Giving your child antihistamine pills or liquid. This may also help to relieve itching. Talk with your child's healthcare provider about what your child should take.    

If your child has contact dermatitis from poison ivy, oak, or sumac:

  • Wash all clothing and all objects that touched the plant oil.
  • Be aware that pets allowed outdoors may have the plant oil on their fur. Your child can get allergic dermatitis from the oil on your pet. Wash your pet’s fur, if possible.

For more severe reactions, contact your child's healthcare provider.  He or she may prescribe corticosteroid pills or liquid, or other medicines.

Can be contact dermatitis prevented?

You can help prevent contact dermatitis in your child by making sure he or she avoids any substances that caused the problem in the past.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

Call 911 if your child has contact dermatitis with trouble breathing.

Call the healthcare provider if your child has:

  • Symptoms that affect a large area
  • Symptoms that get worse
  • Signs of a skin infection, such as increased redness, warmth, swelling, or fluid
  • New symptoms

Key points about contact dermatitis

  • Contact dermatitis is a skin reaction from contact with certain substances.
  • It can be caused by irritants or allergens.
  • It causes many symptoms including redness, blistering, and itching of the skin.
  • It’s important to avoid contact with irritants or allergens that have caused dermatitis.
  • Treatment may include cool cloths, dressings, skin creams or lotions, or prescription medicines.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s health care provider:
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.
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