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Symptoms - Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis causes the skin to become itchy, blistered, dry or cracked.

The skin can become inflamed (swollen). Lighter skin can become red. Darker skin can become dark brown, purple or grey.

These symptoms can develop on any area of the body but they happen most often on the hands and face.

Substances such as irritants or allergens can cause the symptoms.

Symptoms caused by an irritant usually appear immediately or within 48 hours. Milder irritants such as soap and detergents may not cause problems immediately. Symptoms may only appear if you are in contact with these very often.

Symptoms caused by an allergen often take several days to appear.

If you avoid contact with the substance, your skin will usually clear up within a few days or weeks.

But some people experience severe and long-lasting symptoms. This may affect their quality of life.

Other symptoms

Some substances may cause other symptoms. Allergens may cause areas of your skin to itch. Irritants may cause a burning or stinging sensation.

Sometimes areas of skin affected by contact dermatitis can become infected.

Signs of an infection can include:

  • your existing symptoms getting worse
  • discharge from your skin
  • increasing pain
  • feeling generally unwell
  • feeling hot or shivery

Contact your GP if you think you have signs of infection. You may need to take antibiotics.

Content supplied by the NHS and adapted for Ireland by the HSE

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This project has received funding from the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019 under Grant Agreement Number 123.

Page last reviewed: 15 March 2021
Next review due: 15 March 2024