Understanding Dermatitis -- Diagnosis and Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on September 14, 2023
2 min read

There are many types of dermatitis, or inflamed skin disorders, including:

Most types of dermatitis can be diagnosed by a doctor's observation of the irritation and its location on the body.

Sometimes a skin scraping will be taken for microscopic analysis. To identify causes of allergic contact dermatitis, a doctor may use patch tests, which involves the application of suspected allergens to areas of skin on the back.

The first steps in treating dermatitis is to identify the type of dermatitis you have and eliminate the cause, if possible.

Mild skin inflammations usually respond to over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream. To reduce inflammation and heal the irritation of most types of dermatitis, a doctor usually recommends a prescription corticosteroid cream and might prescribe an oral antihistamine to relieve severe itching. You may need an antibiotic if a secondary infection develops. Severe dermatitis may call for corticosteroid pills or injections.

In addition to medications, other treatments may be used to treat dermatitis.

  • Seborrheic dermatitis may respond to dandruff shampoos. These products may contain tar, salicylic acid, zinc pyrithione, ketoconazole, sulfur, or selenium, any of which may be effective.
  • Contact dermatitis caused by chemicals can be treated by avoiding the triggering chemical, medications to relieve symptoms such as antihistamines and corticosteroids, and other coping mechanisms.
  • Nummular dermatitis can be treated with moisturizing lotion and a prescription-strength corticosteroid cream.
  • Stasis dermatitis can be treated by wearing support stockings and elevating your legs above the level of the heart to reduce their swelling. Also, the underlying condition that is causing the leg swelling should be controlled.