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Nonspecific Dermatitis

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Medically reviewed by
Clinical Instructor , Mount Sinai Hospital, Department of Dermatology
Last updated July 9, 2022

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Care Plan

1

First steps to consider

  • Most mild to moderate dermatitis can be treated at home.
  • Try OTC hydrocortisone creams and a good skin care routine.
2

When you may need a provider

  • Your dermatitis hasn’t improved after 2–3 weeks of home treatment.

Emergency Care

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Call 911 or go to the ER if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • Hives
  • A swollen tongue or throat
  • A weak and rapid pulse
  • Feeling dizzy or faint

Nonspecific dermatitis causes raised red bumps on the skin for no known reason. It is easily treated with OTC or prescription creams and you can reduce your risk by using moisturizers.

What is nonspecific dermatitis?

Dermatitis is inflammation of the skin that causes red areas of skin, raised red lumps, or blisters. There are different types and causes of dermatitis, but nonspecific dermatitis means there is no known cause for your dermatitis. About 50% of dermatitis cases are considered nonspecific.

Other types of dermatitis include allergic contact dermatitis (caused by contact with an allergen like poison ivy) and irritant dermatitis (caused by contact with something that irritates the skin like a detergent). Atopic dermatitis is a chronic skin condition, which tends to be genetic.

Whatever the cause, dermatitis is often treated similarly with moisturizers, gentle skin care, and OTC or prescription steroid creams.

Symptoms

Dermatitis is a red rash with lumps that most commonly occurs on the stomach, back, arms, and legs.

Pro Tip

People often think that dermatitis is caused by food. In adults, it is very rare that a food allergy is causing dermatitis. —Dr. Lauren Levy

Causes

The cause of nonspecific dermatitis is unknown. A dermatologist will ask you some questions and may run tests (like a skin biopsy or patch testing) to try to find a cause. But in many cases, no cause will be found.

Nonspecific dermatitis becomes more common with age because skin becomes more sensitive. Also, your skin barrier becomes less effective at keeping moisture in, which leads to dry skin that’s more prone to dermatitis.

Dr. Rx

Treatment will require some “work” for a few weeks to get your skin better. This means using either the OTC or prescription steroid twice a day for 2–3 weeks. It takes time for the rash to go away. —Dr. Levy

Treatment

Pro Tip

There are lots of newer medications on the horizon for those with dermatitis. If your non-specific dermatitis lasts for longer than a few weeks or months, you may be a candidate for an oral or injectable medication that can diminish your dermatitis and also treat itch. —Dr. Levy

You can treat most kinds of dermatitis with OTC or prescription creams.

  • Hydrocortisone cream can relieve redness and itching.
  • Try to improve the normal skin barrier and add moisture to your skin. Heavy-duty moisturizers (CeraVe, Cetaphil) are water-based and add moisture to skin. Emollients like petroleum jelly are oil-based and soften skin to help it stay moist and hydrated.
  • Oral antihistamine can relieve the itching but may make you drowsy.
  • Try to identify and avoid any substances that may be causing the irritation.

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Preventative tips

  • Take short showers rather than long showers or baths and avoid very hot water.
  • Use soaps with a high fat or glycerin content.
  • Avoid products with perfumes and dyes that may cause a sensitivity reaction. Look for fragrance-free products.
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Clinical Instructor , Mount Sinai Hospital, Department of Dermatology
Dr. Levy is a board certified dermatologist specializing in medical derm with expertise in acne, rosacea, skin cancer, psoriasis, and skin manifestations of rheumatologic disease. Her undergraduate education was completed at the University of Pennsylvania where she graduated summa cum laude and was inducted into the Phi Beta Kappa honors society. She graduated with a distinction in research from t...
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