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Allergic Contact Dermatitis (Skin Allergies)

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Consultations: Many primary care physicians treat individuals with typical poison ivy dermatitis who respond well to a 2-week treatment course using topical or systemic corticosteroids and subsequently avoid poison ivy and related plants. Acute dermatitis that resolves with short-term treatment does not require further evaluation. Individuals with chronic dermatitis, particularly if it possibly is related to work, require detailed history and patch testing to standard screening sets and additional allergens as indicated by history, occupation, hobbies, and results on initial patch testing.

Diet: Some chemicals tested by the TRUE test may be present in the diet. Individuals with severe dermatitis, particularly if it is a disabling vesicular dermatitis of the hands, may be treated with diets low in minerals and chemicals to which the individual is allergic. A low-nickel diet is the most common, but published diets are available that are low in chromate, cobalt, or balsam of Peru. These diets may be attempted for the occasional allergic patient with severe chronic vesicular dermatitis.

Activity: Individuals with severe acute ACD may be incapacitated temporarily and unable to work. Most individuals with ACD may require light duties or restrictions of duties. They should avoid further contact with the chemicals to which they are allergic or chemicals that cross-react with these materials. Patients also should minimize exposure to irritant chemicals, particularly if the dermatitis is active or recently resolved. They should use mild cleansing agents on the skin, such as Aquanil, Cetaphil cleanser, or Oilatum-AD, and should apply bland protective emollients, such as SBR Lipocream, Cetaphil cream or Neutrogena hand cream, to help minimize relapse of ACD or development of irritant contact dermatitis of ceramide cream (eg, Impruv).


The goal of pharmacotherapy is to reduce morbidity and to prevent complications. Topical glucocorticosteroids are the mainstay of therapy. When choosing a topical glucocorticosteroid, match the potency to the location of the dermatitis and the vehicle to the morphology (ointment for dry scaling lesions; lotion or cream for weeping areas of dermatitis).

For severe acute ACD (eg, rhus dermatitis, erythroderma), systemic glucocorticosteroids or other immunosuppressive medications may be needed.

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