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Dermatitis, also called eczema, is an inflammation of the skin. It can have many causes and occur in many forms. Generally, dermatitis describes swollen, reddened and itchy skin.



Treatment of dermatitis varies, depending on the cause:

  • Contact dermatitis. Treatment consists primarily of identifying what's causing your irritation and then avoiding it. Sometimes, creams containing hydrocortisone or wet dressings that provide moisture to your skin may help relieve redness and itching. It can take as long as two to four weeks for this type of dermatitis to clear up.

  • Neurodermatitis. Getting you to stop scratching and to avoid aggravating your skin further are the treatment objectives. Accomplishing this may mean you have to wear a dressing that's difficult to remove and leave it on for a week or more. Hydrocortisone lotions and creams may help soothe your skin. You also may find that wet compresses provide relief. Sedatives and tranquilizers also may help you stop scratching, but your doctor will want to monitor your use of these substances because they can be addictive.

  • Seborrheic dermatitis. You'll need to frequently shampoo, then carefully rinse your scalp. Your doctor may recommend a specific shampoo. Commonly used shampoos contain tar, zinc pyrithione, salicylic acid or ketoconazole as the active ingredient. Hydrocortisone creams and lotions may soothe your skin and relieve itching. You also may need treatment for a secondary infection.

  • Stasis dermatitis. Treatment consists of correcting the condition that causes fluid to accumulate in your ankles for extended periods. This may mean wearing elastic support hose or even having varicose vein surgery. You may also use wet dressings to soften the thickened, yet fragile, skin and to control infection.

  • Atopic dermatitis. Treatment typically consists of applying hydrocortisone-containing lotions to ease signs and symptoms. The newest treatment for this condition is a class of medications called immunomodulators, such as tacrolimus (Protopic) and pimecrolimus (Elidel). These medications affect the immune system and may help maintain normal skin texture and reduce flares of atopic dermatitis. Doctors may recommend using these medications in conjunction with hydrocortisone preparations or in place of them because they may cause fewer side effects. If your skin cracks open, doctors sometimes prescribe wet dressings with mildly astringent properties to contract the skin and reduce secretions and prevent infection. If itching is severe, your doctor may suggest you take antihistamines.

  • Perioral dermatitis. Treatment for this condition is usually with the oral antibiotic tetracycline. You may need to continue this treatment for several months to prevent a reoccurrence. Your doctor may prescribe a very mild corticosteroid cream to reduce signs and symptoms of perioral dermatitis. Sometimes when stronger corticosteroids are used, the condition returns when the medication is stopped and it may be more severe than it was originally.

For all types of dermatitis, occasional use of over-the-counter antihistamines can reduce itching.


Dermatitis/Eczema > 1 > 2 > 3 > 4

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