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

Irritant contact dermatitis - External and Internal Eye

See also in: Overview,Anogenital
Contributors: Jeffrey M. Cohen MD, Susan Burgin MD, Harvey A. Brown 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. Irritant contact dermatitis should be differentiated from true allergic contact dermatitis, which is a delayed type-IV hypersensitivity (immune) reaction. Early in the course of irritant contact dermatitis, patients typically complain of a burning or stinging sensation; the symptoms and skin eruption usually follow the exposure by hours if the irritant is strong (whereas in allergic contact dermatitis, 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.

The hands are the most common location for irritant contact dermatitis, although any body surface may be involved. Eyelid areas are also easily affected due to the very thin skin of the region and the unwitting transmission of irritant substances by the hands. (See also Hand dermatitis.)

Patients with a history of atopic dermatitis are particularly predisposed. Environmental factors include repeated exposure to water or frequent hand washing, soaps and solvents, fiberglass, mild acids, and alkalis. Dry air can also predispose to irritant contact dermatitis. Exposures are frequently occupational. High-risk jobs include cleaning, health care, food preparation, and hairdressing. Irritant contact dermatitis can occur at any age. It is more common in women.


L24.9 – Irritant contact dermatitis, unspecified cause

110979008 – Primary irritant dermatitis

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Diagnostic Pearls

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Differential Diagnosis & Pitfalls

  • Allergic contact dermatitis
  • Contact urticaria
  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Tinea faciei
  • Blepharitis
  • Herpes simplex virus blepharitis
  • Seborrheic dermatitis
  • Dermatomyositis

Best Tests

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Management Pearls

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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.

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Last Reviewed:08/13/2017
Last Updated:12/03/2017
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Patient Information for Irritant contact dermatitis - External and Internal Eye
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Irritant contact dermatitis - External and Internal Eye
See also in: Overview,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.
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