Dermatitis is a general term describing inflammation of the skin. The symptoms of dermatitis vary according to the cause and type of inflammation but, typically, the following symptoms occur:
Skin lesions such as red bumps, blisters and pustules
When the skin lesions heal, scars may form over affected areas
Types of dermatitis
Some symptoms are specific to different types of dermatitis and examples are given below:
Contact dermatitis is a skin condition (usually of the hands) that occurs in response to contact with a particular substance. The substance may be an irritant that actually damages the skin or an allergen that triggers an immune response and leads to skin symptoms. In cases of contact dermatitis, the skin typically becomes itchy, scaly, red, tingly and sore. Blisters may also form and the skin can become cracked.
Atopic dermatitis, also called eczema, refers to a condition where the skin is easily irritated and inflamed in response to certain foods, allergens or environmental factors. It tends to be accompanied by other atopic conditions such as hay fever or asthma. The condition usually begins in childhood and is characterized by itchy, dry and flaky skin that typically occurs in areas where the skin folds such as the inside of the elbows, behind the knees or at the front of the neck. Scratching the itchy skin can cause fluid to leak which may then crust over. The condition is relapsing and remitting in nature, with episodes of flare-ups followed by periods where symptoms clear up.
Neurodermatitis describes an extremely intense itch that arises due to irritation of the nerve endings underneath the skin, usually caused by insect bites or emotional stress. Scratching does not particularly relieve the itch and a cycle of itching and scratching develops that can eventually cause the skin to thicken and feel leathery. Usually, the condition affects a single patch on the neck, wrist, forearm, thigh or ankle. Affected skin may also be raised, red or darker than other skin areas.
This form of dermatitis has a similar appearance to herpes. Blisters develop on skin surfaces such as the elbows, knees, neck, scalp, buttocks, groin or face and vary in size up to a diameter of 1 cm. Severe, overwhelming itchiness is usually accompanied by a burning or painful stinging sensation.
Seborrheic dermatitis This condition usually affects the scalp, back of the neck, ears and nose. Scaly, itchy and flaky skin manifest along with persistent dandruff. The condition can also affect other parts of the skin where sebaceous glands are present such as the back, upper chest and other regions. In newborns, this form of dermatitis is often referred to as cradle cap.
This is a common condition that usually affects women and is characterized by small red, itchy bumps that form a rash around the mouth, nostrils and eyes. The severity of the condition ranges, with some women developing only a few barely noticeable spots while others suffer from an obvious, red and bumpy rash around the mouth.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc