Dermatitis is a general term that describes an inflammation of the skin. Dermatitis can have many causes and occurs in many forms. It usually involves an itchy rash on swollen, reddened skin.

Skin affected by dermatitis may blister, ooze, develop a crust or flake off. Examples of dermatitis include atopic dermatitis (eczema), dandruff, and rashes caused by contact with any of a number of substances, such as poison ivy, soaps and jewelry with nickel in it.

Dermatitis is a common condition that's not contagious and usually isn't life-threatening. Even so, it can make you feel uncomfortable and self-conscious. A combination of self-care steps and medications can help you treat dermatitis.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Each type of dermatitis may look a little different and may tend to occur on different parts of your body. The most common types of dermatitis include:

  • Atopic dermatitis (eczema). Usually beginning in infancy, this red, itchy rash most commonly occurs where the skin flexes — inside the elbows, behind the knees and the front of the neck. When scratched, the rash can leak fluid and crust over. People with atopic dermatitis may experience improvement and then flare-ups.
  • Contact dermatitis. This rash occurs on areas of the body that have come into contact with substances that either irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction, such as poison ivy. The red rash may burn, sting or itch. Blisters may develop.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis. This condition causes scaly patches, red skin and stubborn dandruff. It usually affects oily areas of the body, such as the face, upper chest and back. It can be a long-term condition with periods of remission and flare-ups. In infants, this disorder is known as cradle cap.

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if:

  • You're so uncomfortable that you are losing sleep or are distracted from your daily routines
  • Your skin becomes painful
  • You suspect your skin is infected
  • You've tried self-care steps without success

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