The term ‘dermatitis’ covers a range of skin disorders, all of them involving swollen, red and itchy skin; it is not contagious.  In the vast majority of cases the condition is irritating and uncomfortable but does no serious damage and can be treated effectively without recourse to prescription drugs or other major expense.

Contact dermatitis, as the name implies, results from either repeated contact with skin irritants such as laundry and cleaning products, or with a single contact with an allergen like poison ivy.  With allergens, once the body is exposed and ‘sensitized’ to the particular substance, only minimal exposure is necessary to cause a significant reaction and the allergy usually remains for life.

Neurodermatitis can also be associated with eczema or psoriasis, and involves an area of the skin that itches and provokes constant scratching.  It seems to be caused by nervous reaction rather than any specific substance or allergen.

Seborrheic dermatitis is usually found on the scalp and is associated with oily hair or skin.  It is characterized by a red rash with yellowish scales, and seems to be connected with physical stress or certain neurological conditions.

Stasis dermatitis normally affects the lower legs, and can be caused by varicose veins or other chronic conditions that result in the build-up of fluid beneath the skin.

Atopic dermatitis is an itchy rash that can occur anywhere on the body and tends to recur at intervals.  It is similar and often referred to as atopic eczema or just eczema, and is often associated with allergies, asthma and hay fever.  The condition usually appears in infancy and becomes milder in later years.

Perioral dermatitis is characterized by a bumpy rash around the mouth or nose.   This one is rather ambiguous, and may be a form of rosacea or a reaction to makeup or possibly the fluoride in dental products.

In general, the various forms of dermatitis can be caused by one or a combination of factors including allergies, irritants, physical and mental stress and genetics.  As a rule they can be treated with oral or topical medications, often without prescription.  Keeping the skin moist with oil or cream after a short, warm (not hot) bath or shower and avoiding known irritants and allergens can go a long ways towards reducing or eliminating the outbreaks of dermatitis.

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