How can our environment trigger contact eczema?

  • by Petra Jelinkova

Contact dermatitis or contact eczema is what we call eczema that comes about because of irritants or allergens in our environment. There are two types of contact dermatitis – irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis, and it is possible to have both at the same time.

 

what is irritant contact dermatitis (irritants in our environment) ?

Irritant contact dermatitis happens when the skin comes into contact with something in its environment which irritates it. The rash can look red, scaly and be itchy and only the area of the skin which has had contact with the irritant will be affected. Symptoms of irritant contact dermatitis show within about 48 hours of coming into contact although the time it takes for symptoms to appear depends on the strength of the irritant. For example strong irritants such as pesticides, weed killers can cause immediate reactions, whereas milder irritants like detergents, soaps, household cleaning products might not cause a reaction until they are used repeatedly. More irritants are listed by the National Eczema Association.

The most common places on the body for irritant contact dermatitis are

  • face (usually caused by heat and cosmetic products)
  • hands (between the fingers and on the back of hands)
  • anywhere on the body which has been irritated by friction from clothing)

One more thing, babies and toddlers who suffer from eczema, asthma and hayfever, like my two children, are also more likely to suffer from irritant contact dermatitis.

what is allergic contact dermatitis (allergens in our environment)?

Allergic contact dermatitis is when the body reacts by defending itself against a chemical or allergen in its environment. Like irritant contact dermatitis the rash will only be in the area which came into contact with the allergen. The interesting this is the first time the body comes into contact with the allergen it becomes sensitised to it and there is no rash. It is only when it comes into contact with it again that an itchy, red rash will appear.

The sensitisation can take a long time to develop, sometimes many years, the upside to this is that it’s less common in babies and toddlers.

Some common allergens in the environment are:

  • plants – the pine on Christmas trees is a really common allergen
  • preservatives – commonly parabens
  • rubber and latex 
  • perfumes
  • some topical creams

To complicate allergic contact dermatitis a little bit more some products only cause a reaction when the skin is exposed to light. Some examples of these are some sunscreens, some perfumes and coal tar solutions.

This blog post was brought to you and your baby with love from Julia and the itchy baby co. team x.

Disclaimer: Information provided is of a general nature only, and you should always consult your medical professional.


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