SynopsisCodesLook ForDiagnostic PearlsDifferential Diagnosis & PitfallsBest TestsManagement PearlsTherapyDrug Reaction DataReferences

Information for Patients

View all Images (15)

Irritant contact dermatitis in Child
See also in: External and Internal Eye,Anogenital
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed

Irritant contact dermatitis in Child

See also in: External and Internal Eye,Anogenital
Contributors: Sophia Delano MD, Susan Burgin MD
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed


Irritant contact dermatitis is a reaction caused by direct physical or chemical injury to the epidermis. The damage caused by an irritant leads to inflammation, manifested in the skin as erythema, edema, and scaling. The thin epidermis of infants and young children can be vulnerable to these exposures.

Irritant contact dermatitis should be differentiated from true allergic contact dermatitis, which is a delayed type-IV hypersensitivity (immune) reaction. Patients typically present complaining of a burning or stinging sensation early in the course of irritant contact dermatitis. Symptoms and a rash usually follow the exposure by hours if the irritant is strong; this is in contrast to allergic contact dermatitis, where symptoms are usually delayed by approximately 2 days following exposure. As the irritation becomes chronic and the skin continually inflamed, pruritus can become a predominant symptom.

Any body surface can be a location for irritant contact dermatitis. The hands are a common location in older children (see also hand dermatitis). The face and diaper area are commonly involved in younger children, such as in diaper dermatitis. Saliva in young babies who are teething or using bottles and pacifiers can cause irritant dermatitis on the cheeks and chin. Irritant dermatitis from cleansers used on toilet seats presents as dermatitis on the buttocks and posterior thighs.

Patients with a history of atopic dermatitis are particularly predisposed. Environmental factors include repeated exposure to water or frequent hand washing, hand sanitizers, soaps and solvents, fiberglass, mild acids, and alkalis. Dry air can also predispose to irritant contact dermatitis. Irritant contact dermatitis can occur at any age from infancy to adulthood.

Irritant contact dermatitis will improve when the child is no longer exposed to the irritant, such as a hand dermatitis that improves during summers and school breaks when a child is no longer using a particular hand sanitizer daily.


L24.9 – Irritant contact dermatitis, unspecified cause

110979008 – Primary irritant dermatitis

Look For

Subscription Required

Diagnostic Pearls

Subscription Required

Differential Diagnosis & Pitfalls

  • Allergic contact dermatitis has a delayed onset compared to irritant contact dermatitis and can be more widespread.
  • Atopic dermatitis is usually marked by diffuse xerosis with eczematous plaques in the flexural regions, but older children may have marked acral involvement of their atopic dermatitis.
  • Nummular dermatitis (nummular eczema) has slightly lichenified, glazed plaques with multiple erosions throughout the body that are intensely pruritic.
  • Dyshidrotic dermatitis (dyshidrotic eczema) presents as small pruritic vesicles on the hands with some desquamation.
  • Phytophotodermatitis may often present in similar geometric lesions after exposure to a triggering agent and subsequent sun exposure.
  • Intertrigo if present in skin folds.
  • Tinea corporis – When a patient presents with scaling lesions (especially on the hands or feet), it is important to perform a potassium hydroxide (KOH) preparation to rule out a fungal etiology.
  • Psoriasis can also present as well-demarcated plaques on the hands, feet, and groin in children. Look for scalp, ear, umbilical, and nail plate involvement as signs favoring psoriasis over irritant contact dermatitis.
  • Pityriasis rosea develops from one initial herald patch, often on the trunk, into a widespread eruption of papules and plaques with a trailing edge of scale that follow Langer lines of cleavage on the trunk.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis will present as yellow-white greasy scale on erythematous papules and plaques on the scalp, face, and upper trunk of young infants and teenagers.
  • Lichen simplex chronicus lesions are pruritic and lichenified to hypertrophic papules and plaques at the site of repeated scratching or rubbing.
  • Scabies – Look for burrows in the web spaces of hands and feet. Scabies in young children may have a mixed morphology and be widespread.
  • Cellulitis has the classic signs of warmth, erythema, and induration with an advancing border, often without as much epidermal change as irritant contact dermatitis.
  • Erysipelas
  • Herpes simplex virus (HSV) infection will present with punched-out, scalloped-border erosions. Tzanck smear, direct fluorescent antibody (DFA) test, and viral culture are all ways to differentiate irritant contact dermatitis and HSV infection.
  • Nonbullous impetigo lesions often have a yellow crusting and will have positive bacterial culture.
  • Pellagra
  • Drug eruption general overview

Best Tests

Subscription Required

Management Pearls

Subscription Required


Subscription Required

Drug Reaction Data

Below is a list of drugs with literature evidence indicating an adverse association with this diagnosis. The list is continually updated through ongoing research and new medication approvals. Click on Citations to sort by number of citations or click on Medication to sort the medications alphabetically.

Subscription Required


Subscription Required

Last Reviewed:10/17/2017
Last Updated:02/04/2021
Copyright © 2024 VisualDx®. All rights reserved.
Patient Information for Irritant contact dermatitis in Child
Print E-Mail Images (15)
Contributors: Medical staff writer
Premium Feature
VisualDx Patient Handouts
Available in the Elite package
  • Improve treatment compliance
  • Reduce after-hours questions
  • Increase patient engagement and satisfaction
  • Written in clear, easy-to-understand language. No confusing jargon.
  • Available in English and Spanish
  • Print out or email directly to your patient
Copyright © 2024 VisualDx®. All rights reserved.
Irritant contact dermatitis in Child
See also in: External and Internal Eye,Anogenital
A medical illustration showing key findings of Irritant contact dermatitis : Burning skin sensation, Erythema, Intertriginous distribution, Pruritus, Scaly plaques
Clinical image of Irritant contact dermatitis - imageId=3921662. Click to open in gallery.  caption: 'Dry skin and scaling of the fingertips.'
Dry skin and scaling of the fingertips.
Copyright © 2024 VisualDx®. All rights reserved.