What it is, what causes it and how to treat it.
Most of us have or will suffer from dermatitis at some point in our lives. Effectively an umbrella word used to describe skin irritation, it can come in different forms and severities. But given it’s an affliction that so many of us will encounter, and given that our skin is our body's largest organ, covering us from our head to our toes, it’s a good idea to get to grips with what might be causing that aggravation and itchiness.
We spoke to Dr Zoya Diwan, founder of Trikwan Aesthetics on Harley Street, to work out what dermatitis is, what causes it and, most importantly, what we can do to treat it.
What is dermatitis and what does it look like?
Dermatitis is a general word used to describe skin irritation. There are many types, the most common being “atopic dermatitis”, more commonly known as eczema. It is extremely common in developed countries, with up to 10% of adults being affected and 30% of children.
Dermatitis can be anything from a small, itchy red mark with dry-looking skin to extensive plaques, vesicles, crusting, scaling, redness and extreme itching or “pruritus”. It looks different at different stages - for example, long/chronic dermatitis can look quite thick with areas of increased or decreased pigmentation as a result. Other forms include contact dermatitis, which occurs as a response to an irritant like a certain chemical - a particular hand soap, for instance - or as a result of an allergic reaction.
What causes dermatitis?
The most common form of dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental causes. Many patients also suffer with asthma as well, since the genetic cause of the dermatitis also affects the lungs. Essentially, if one parent suffers from eczema then there is a 50% chance that their child will also suffer from it.
Is there a cure for dermatitis?
For certain contact dermatitis, understanding and avoiding the triggers are the only real cure. For atopic dermatitis, research is still ongoing to find a definitive cure for it. It is a very complex condition and not all treatments work for everyone. Research has come a long way in finding amazing treatment options for this condition - it is important to speak to a specialist doctor about your condition, to find out what will best suit your skin.
Are there certain triggers that make dermatitis worse?
Everyone is different but for contact dermatitis, common culprits include certain perfumes, nickel and cobalt. For atopic dermatitis, it is more complex as there is a huge genetic component. Certain foods like peanuts, eggs and milk can sometimes worsen eczema, but this should be tested for you by your specialist. Other contributors can include stress, lack of sleep, house dust mites, tree and grass pollen, extreme heat, cigarette smoke, living in a polluted area and many more.
What are your top tips for treating dermatitis?
Always see a specialist that understands your skin and the evolution of the skin over time. Learn and understand your triggers and avoid them. Use good emollients and steroid creams for flare ups and then further treatments when necessary, including phototherapy (which uses ultraviolet light), immunotherapy (such as allergy shots and drops) and oral tablets. It is very important to seek specialist help.