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Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis

Last updated Oct. 28, 2019

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis is a special form of irritant contact dermatitis (ICD) that usually occurs in an occupational environment. It is typically caused by irritating dust and chemical vapors.


What are the other Names for this Condition? (Also known as/Synonyms)

  • ABCD (Airborne-Contact Dermatitis)
  • Airborne Irritant Contact Eczema
  • Contact Dermatitis caused by Airborne Agents

What is Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis? (Definition/Background Information)

  • Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis is a special form of irritant contact dermatitis (ICD) that usually occurs in an occupational environment. It is typically caused by irritating dust and chemical vapors
  • The signs and symptoms of Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis are observed on the exposed skin areas. The exposure to chemicals or irritant substances causes an allergic reaction on the outer protective layer of skin
  • Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis can be acute, where the symptoms are observed right away after exposure (within a few minutes to hours). Or, it can be chronic, when the symptoms are observed after a period of time, like after many hours or days
  • Some of the common signs and symptoms include skin rashes, red patches that resemble skin burns, and the presence of fluid-filled blisters
  • The treatment of Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis involves a complete avoidance of the causative agent and the use of medications that include corticosteroids and antihistamines
  • Generally, the condition resolves without any significant complications. However, identifying the offending substance is the most important step towards preventing Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis

Note: Airborne-Contact Dermatitis pertains to signs and symptoms manifested on the skin. Airborne irritants can cause a variety of other health conditions affecting the lungs and respiratory system. These include airborne irritant induced asthma, airborne irritant induced bronchitis, airborne irritant induced conjunctivitis, and airborne irritant induced sinusitis.

Who gets Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis? (Age and Sex Distribution)

  • Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis can affect any individual, at any age
  • Both men and women are affected by this condition
  • No racial, ethnic, or geographical predominance is observed

What are the Risk Factors for Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis? (Predisposing Factors)

The risk for Irritant Contact Dermatitis may include exposure to any of the following substances:

  • Industrial chemical fumes
  • Exposure to ammonia and formaldehyde vapors
  • Dust from an industrial setting such as from woodcutting or fiberglass cutting

Individuals in the following trades or profession are at an increased risk:

  • Cooks and chefs
  • Welders
  • Glass blowers
  • Factory or industrial workers

Note: Not all individuals are affected by the same substance or to the same intensity.

It is important to note that having a risk factor does not mean that one will get the condition. A risk factor increases ones chances of getting a condition compared to an individual without the risk factors. Some risk factors are more important than others.

Also, not having a risk factor does not mean that an individual will not get the condition. It is always important to discuss the effect of risk factors with your healthcare provider.

What are the Causes of Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis? (Etiology)

  • Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis is a common type of contact dermatitis
  • The condition occurs when the skin is damaged from exposure to irritating dust and chemical vapors, which leads to an allergic reaction
  • Such an exposure is typically seen in an industrial or occupational setup

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis?

Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis may be acute or chronic. The signs and symptoms of the condition can be mild or severe and may include:

  • Red rashes on the skin
  • Dry and cracked red patches that resemble burns on the skin
  • Blisters on the skin that drain or ooze fluid
  • The skin rashes are generally confined to the area of exposure to the offending agent
  • Pain and tenderness in the affected area
  • Acute form of Airborne ICD: The symptoms may be observed immediately on contact with the irritant, or after a few minutes or hours
  • Chronic form of Airborne ICD: The symptoms may be observed after many hours or days following exposure

How is Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis Diagnosed?

A diagnosis of Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis would include:

  • A complete evaluation of one’s medical history (including occupational history, nature of work) to learn about the source of the condition
  • A thorough physical examination to observe the signs and symptoms of the condition
  • Patch test:
    • In this test, small quantities of substances (thought to be irritants) are applied on the skin in small patches
    • The application is left for a certain duration of time, after which the response is observed
    • If the individual develops rashes in the patchy area where the substances were applied, it may be confirmed that the patient is allergic to that particular substance
  • Skin biopsy: A skin biopsy is performed and sent to the laboratory for pathological examination. The pathologist examines the biopsy under a microscope for a definitive diagnosis

Many clinical conditions may have similar signs and symptoms. Your healthcare provider may perform additional tests to rule out other clinical conditions to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

What are the possible Complications of Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis?

Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis could lead to the following complications such as:

  • Bacterial and fungal infection: Continuous itching and scaling of the skin will create skin moistness, providing a suitable environment for bacteria and fungi to grow and thrive
  • Chronic conditions may cause emotional stress

How is Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis Treated?

Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis may be managed through the following measures:

  • Avoiding exposure or contact with substances that are (known) irritants
  • Application of anti-itch, over-the-counter creams that contain hydrocortisone can provide relief from pain and itching sensation
  • Oral medications: The physician may prescribe oral corticosteroids to reduce inflammation or antihistamines to provide relief from severe itching sensation

A few self-care tips and home remedies may include:

  • Avoid scratching the affected area
  • A cool bath may help soothe the skin
  • Wear smooth cotton clothes
  • Use mild perfumes, soaps, and detergents

How can Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis be Prevented?

The following measures may be adopted to avoid the risk of Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis:

  • Identification and avoidance of substances that cause the irritation is the first and foremost preventive step
  • In case of contact with the allergic substance, wash the affected area immediately with water
  • A protective cream or moisturizer may be applied over the skin for protection of the topmost layer
  • In case of an industrial exposure, use protective masks or clothing
  • Observe safety regulations while handling chemicals

What is the Prognosis of Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis? (Outcomes/Resolutions)

  • Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis usually resolves within a short duration of time, generally without any complications
  • If the condition is recurrent, it may be because the exact cause is not yet identified
  • If the condition is due to an occupational exposure, then the occupation or job-related tasks or habits may have to be modified

Additional and Relevant Useful Information for Airborne Irritant Contact Dermatitis:

There are various types of Contact Dermatitis and these include:

  • Irritant Contact Dermatitis
  • Allergic Contact Dermatitis
  • Photo-Allergic Contact Dermatitis
  • Phototoxic Contact Dermatitis

The following article link will help you understand contact dermatitis:

http://www.dovemed.com/diseases-conditions/contact-dermatitis/

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?


References and Information Sources used for the Article:


Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:


Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: Jan. 31, 2016
Last updated: Oct. 28, 2019