Dermatitis: Care Instructions

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Dermatitis is the general name used for any rash or inflammation of the skin. Different kinds of dermatitis cause different kinds of rashes. Common causes of a rash include new medicines, plants (such as poison oak or poison ivy), heat, and stress. Certain illnesses can also cause a rash.

An allergic reaction to something that touches your skin, such as latex, nickel, or poison ivy, is called contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis may also be caused by something that irritates the skin, such as bleach, a chemical, or soap. These types of rashes cannot be spread from person to person.

How long your rash will last depends on what caused it. Rashes may last a few days or months.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Do not scratch the rash. Cut your nails short, and file them smooth. Or wear gloves if this helps keep you from scratching.
  • Wash the area with water only. Pat dry.
  • Put cold, wet cloths on the rash to reduce itching.
  • Keep cool, and stay out of the sun.
  • Leave the rash open to the air as much as possible.
  • If the rash itches, use hydrocortisone cream. Follow the directions on the label. Calamine lotion may help for plant rashes.
  • If itching affects your sleep, ask your doctor if you can take an antihistamine that might reduce itching and make you sleepy, such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
  • If your doctor prescribed a cream, use it as directed. If your doctor prescribed medicine, take it exactly as directed.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.
  • You have joint pain along with the rash.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • Your rash is changing or getting worse.
  • You are not getting better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.