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How Long Does Contact Dermatitis Last? Treatment, How To Get Rid

Medically Reviewed on 3/15/2022

Contact dermatitis may last for up to four weeks; however, using the following treatment options may help relieve your symptoms faster.

Contact dermatitis may last for up to four weeks even after the offending agent (allergen or irritant) has been removed from your contact.

Most cases of contact dermatitis show symptoms within hours after exposure to the allergen or irritant, whereas others may take anywhere between one to seven days.

The signs and symptoms of irritant contact dermatitis are limited only to the area that was exposed to the allergen while that of allergic contact dermatitis can start from a single patch to become widespread.

What treatment makes contact dermatitis go away fast?

The main treatment of contact dermatitis is to avoid the offending agent. However, treatments can make the contact dermatitis go away faster and provide relief from pain, itchiness, and rash and halt the progression of the condition.

  • Moisturizers
    • Applying moisturizer or emollient creams on the affected skin several times a day may be all that you need for mild contact dermatitis. The moisturizer helps seal the skin barrier and repairs the cracked skin.
    • Even after the rash disappears, the regular application of moisturizing creams or lotions can form a protective barrier over the skin and prevent recurrent contact dermatitis.
  • Topical steroids
    • Topical steroids are steroid medications available in the form of creams, ointments, and lotions. You can buy a mild steroid cream, such as over-the-counter (OTC) hydrocortisone cream, from pharmacies. If the OTC cream does not provide relief, your doctor may prescribe a stronger version of the cream.
    • Applying steroid cream for less than four weeks usually causes no problems. Side effects, such as thinning of the skin, may occur if they are applied for prolonged periods.
  • Antibiotics
    • Your doctor may prescribe you a course of antibiotics if they see the rash developing signs of infection, such as pus formation.
  • Oral steroids
    • Severe cases of contact dermatitis may need a few weeks of oral steroids. The most used one is prednisolone. You need to take the medication as prescribed and do not discontinue it unless your doctor has advised you to do so. Abrupt stopping of steroids can cause worsening of the condition.
  • Other treatments
    • If all other treatments have failed to improve your contact dermatitis, options may include an immunomodulatory cream, such as tacrolimus cream, and treatment with immunosuppressant medicines, such as azathioprine or cyclosporine. 
    • Immunomodulators and immunosuppressants are medicines that work on your immune system to reduce the inflammation of contact dermatitis.

Your doctor may recommend light therapy or phototherapy, which is not a common treatment for contact dermatitis. It is reserved only for patients who have not responded well to other treatments. The therapy involves exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, and sometimes, it is used in combination with a medicine called psoralen. This is called psoralen combined with ultraviolet A treatment (PUVA).

Home remedies that you can try include:

  • Application of cool compress
  • Antihistamine pills
  • Oatmeal bath
  • Anti-itch lotion, such as calamine lotion


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What are the symptoms of contact dermatitis?

Symptoms of contact dermatitis include a skin rash that is:

  • Burning or stinging
  • Painful
  • Swollen
  • Tender
  • Itchy
  • Cracking, peeling, or flaking the skin
  • Blistering that may ooze and crust over

In recurrent contact dermatitis, the skin may harden and start to form plaques. This condition may resemble other skin conditions, such as psoriasis.

How is contact dermatitis diagnosed?

Your doctor will examine your skin with the naked eye or with the help of a magnifying lens. It can reveal clues to the underlying diagnosis of irritant or allergic contact dermatitis. They will take your history to find the offending agent.

The doctor may want to know your occupation, hobbies, any recent use of new jewelry or cosmetics, and other possible agents that are known to cause contact dermatitis.

  • Your doctor will ask you to stay away from the most likely offending agent (allergen) for a while to ascertain their diagnosis. If that is not sufficient for the diagnosis, further diagnostic testing may be ordered.
  • One such test includes a patch test in which diluted amounts of common allergens will be applied to your skin, and the skin will be observed for any reaction after 48 hours. This will let your doctor know about the allergen in allergic contact dermatitis.

Irritant contact dermatitis does not have any diagnostic test to confirm the diagnosis. Your doctor will likely confirm the condition based on the signs and symptoms and your medical history.

Can contact dermatitis be prevented?

Once the contact dermatitis rash has settled, the main aim is to prevent it from happening again. So, you first need to identify the irritants or allergens that cause your skin to break out in a rash. Then you need to avoid those substances or take steps to prevent skin exposure to them.

Other steps you can take to help prevent flare-ups include:

  • Wear protective clothing, including gloves, long sleeves, pants, protective eyewear, or a face mask when you must be around allergens or irritants. This is particularly important for people working as janitors or in kitchens, beauty parlors, construction sites, and manufacturing units.
  • Cover up nickel-containing accessories, such as metal fasteners, on your clothing that might irritate your skin.
  • Apply moisturizing creams or lotions regularly.
  • Choose shampoos, soaps, and other household products that are fragrance-free and free from allergens.
  • Choose cosmetic products that mention the terms, “hypoallergenic” and “fragrance-free” on their labels.
  • Wash your skin thoroughly immediately with lukewarm water and mild soap after coming into contact with an irritant or allergen.

By avoiding irritants and allergens, taking treatment for the rashes promptly, and taking other preventative steps, you can effectively treat contact dermatitis and keep it from affecting your life.


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Medically Reviewed on 3/15/2022


Image Source: iStock Images

Helm TN. Allergic Contact Dermatitis. Medscape.

Aneja S. Irritant Contact Dermatitis. Medscape.

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