“The Healthy Geezer” answers questions about health and aging in his weekly column.
Question: What causes rashes?
Answer: The most common cause of a rash is contact dermatitis, an inflammation of the skin that comes from direct contact with irritants or allergens. A red, itchy rash from contact dermatitis isn’t contagious, and usually goes away in two to four weeks.
The cause of contact dermatitis is direct contact with irritants or allergens. These include: detergents, soaps, makeup, deodorant, clothing, chemicals, rubber, metals, jewelry, fragrances, plants and medicinal lotions.
There are two types of contact dermatitis.
Irritant contact dermatitis is caused by a substance such as bleach that irritates the skin. Allergic contact dermatitis is caused by a reaction to an allergen, which is a substance that induces an allergy.
If the cause of a rash isn’t obvious, you may have to get a “patch test.” During one of these tests, small amounts of possible allergens are place on patches that are attached to your skin for two days. If you are allergic to a tested substance, a bump will appear on your skin.
You should seek medical attention for a rash when it interferes with your sleep or your normal daytime activities, you are in pain, you think you have an infection, or home care hasn’t worked.
If you scratch a rash for a long time, you can get neurodermatitis, a condition in which skin becomes thick. Persistent scratching can also lead to infection, scars or color changes in your skin.
To treat contact dermatitis you should:
- Avoid the irritants.
- Use topical creams containing hydrocortisone, and oral corticosteroids and antihistamines to reduce the inflammation and itching.
- Stop scratching.
- Apply cool, wet compresses.
- Cover the affected area with bandages to protect the skin and prevent scratching.
- Bathe in cool water with baking soda or finely ground oatmeal.
- Wear smooth-textured cotton clothing to avoid irritation.
- Wash with mild soaps without dyes or perfumes, and rinse thoroughly.
- Use plastic gloves to avoid contact with household cleaners.
- When laundering, use a mild, unscented detergent and an extra rinse cycle.
The following are some common allergens:
- Skin products. Perfumes, lotions, and cosmetics may cause allergic contact dermatitis. Others are sensitive to the preservative chemicals needed to prevent skin care products from spoiling.
- Poison plants. These include poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac.
- Rubber. Chemical additives in rubber can cause a reaction. Rubber gloves can cause dermatitis. Synthetic gloves can be used instead. Women with a rubber allergy can wear undergarments with spandex if they do not have rubber-backed fasteners or edges. Bras without rubber are also available.
- Hair dyes. Some people are sensitive to paraphenylene-diamine (PPD). This ingredient is found in permanent hair dyes that are mixed with another chemical, such as peroxide, before application. Most people allergic to PPD can use temporary dyes.
- Nickel. Nickel is found in gold jewelry and metal alloys. Many chrome-plated objects contain enough nickel to produce a reaction in sensitive people. Buckles, zippers, buttons and can cause dermatitis.
- Chromates. Chromates contain chromium, and are commonly responsible for allergic contact dermatitis from cement, leather, some matches, paints, and anti-rust products. Chromates are also used to tan leather for shoes and can result in shoe dermatitis. Vegetable-tanned footwear can be used as an alternative.
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All rights reserved © 2012 by Fred Cicetti