Skin Allergy

M.D. Claiborne & Associates, L.L.C. - Dermatology Specialists

Skin allergy, also known as allergic contact dermatitis, refers to when a person’s skin comes into contact with a substance that induces an inflammatory reaction. There are two basic types of contact dermatitis – irritant and allergic. Symptoms include itching, redness, warmth, swelling, cracking, pain, scaling and crusting. Skin can crack, bleed and ooze, depending on the severity of the reaction. Dermatitis can occur from exposure to the environment (such as dry weather), chemicals (such as harsh soaps), allergens (such as nickel or cosmetics) and physical trauma (such as abrasion). Your physician may diagnose irritant or allergic contact dermatitis from your medical history, occupation, symptoms, and patch testing. Treatment of both irritant and allergic contact dermatitis is based on avoiding contact with the substance(s) that caused the reaction.

What is Allergic Contact Dermatitis (ACD)?

Allergic contact dermatitis occurs from a person’s immune response to contact allergens, such as fragrances, preservatives, nickel, gold, and many others. Allergic reactions to contact allergens develop hours or days after exposure, and may take weeks to heal. A personal or family history of other allergies may increase a person’s chance of developing this skin condition.

In already sensitized individuals, this immunologic response is elicited by contact with a specific allergen or closely related chemical. Symptoms typically manifest 24 to 72 hours after allergen exposure, vary in intensity and often include itching and vesiculation. More than 3,000 chemicals are reportedly capable of causing allergic contact dermatitis but relatively few allergens account for most cases. These common allergens form the basis of diagnostic patch testing that is used to differentiate allergic from irritant contact dermatitis.

Allergic contact dermatitis is responsible for approximately half of all contact dermatitis cases. Patients with persistent, unresolved contact dermatitis can suffer for years with a diminished quality of life and increased medical treatment costs. However, the condition can be effectively treated once an accurate diagnosis is obtained.

What is Irritant Contact Dermatitis (ICD)?

This non-specific inflammatory condition develops after skin is exposed to substances that are physically, chemically or mechanically traumatizing. Symptoms are usually confined to the area of contact, recur with additional irritant exposure and may be difficult to distinguish from allergic contact dermatitis.

Irritant contact dermatitis occurs in response to irritating substances such as household cleaners, harsh soaps and industrial solvents. Your skin can react to these substances within minutes or hours, and stops reacting soon after they are gone.

To specifically identify which substance or substances a patient may be allergic to, Dr. Claiborne uses the T.R.U.E. Test. This adhesive epicutaneous panel is the only FDA-approved test to diagnose allergic contact dermatitis in patients 18 years of age and older whose clinical history suggests skin allergy and sensitivity to different 35 allergens. When it is appropriate, this test is almost always covered by insurance.  This test is different than the prick tests for allergy performed by allergists – those test for an immediate hypersensitivity, often associated with difficulty breathing and throat swelling.

Once an allergen is identified, Dr. Claiborne will discuss treatment and options for alternatives to avoid the causative agent(s).