Rashes, blisters, itching, redness, and irritation are common signs of inflammation of the skin. But, did you know that there are a host of other factors that could be behind skin inflammation?
Inflamed skin is generally a sign of our immune system responding to an infection, a certain dysfunction, or an allergic reaction. In this blog, we explore everything you need to know about skin inflammation, including its causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options.
In This Article
What Is Skin Inflammation?
Skin inflammation is also known as dermatitis. This condition usually occurs as a sign of the body’s immune system fighting against foreign attackers (1). Basically, inflamed skin is irritated skin from an internal or external cause.
The key signs of skin inflammation skin include redness of the skin, rashes, and breakouts like blisters or abscesses. In some cases, the breakout is mild with pimples and blisters, whereas in others, the skin can quickly turn red and hot to the touch. There may also be cracks and bleeding in some rashes.
There are mainly two types of inflammation in the skin:
- Acute Skin Inflammation: Acute inflammation of the skin usually lasts up to six weeks or less and can result from various skin issues such as sunburns, acne, and allergic reactions.
- Chronic Skin Inflammation: Chronic inflammation can last beyond six weeks and might be indefinite in some cases. It generally goes hand in hand with eczema and psoriasis – some of the common skin diseases that cause frequent flare-ups that do not usually disappear quickly.
In the next section, we will discuss the main causes that can lead to skin inflammation.
Causes Of Skin Inflammation
There are multiple factors that cause skin inflammation:
1. Dysfunctional Immune System
Any kind of dysfunction within the immune system can cause your immunity cells to mistakenly attack the body’s healthy cells. Psoriasis is a classic example of this, where an overreactive immune response speeds up the skin cell production process, leading to red, patchy skin lesions developing on the body (1).
Apart from this, an imbalanced gut microbiome is also linked to skin inflammation and other chronic inflammatory skin conditions in certain cases.
Bacterial, viral, and fungal infections are other common causes of skin inflammation (1). Some of the most common infections include
- Bacterial skin infections: Cellulitis and staph infections
- Viral skin infections: Herpes simplex and warts
- Fungal infections: Athlete’s foot and ringworm
Apart from these, a chronic skin condition known as seborrheic dermatitis that causes red, scaly skin patches is also believed to be caused by yeast in the oil on the skin.
3. Allergic Reaction
An allergic reaction generally occurs when the immune system overreacts when it senses a foreign substance and sends cells to attack the invader. Certain foods, medications, etc., can all trigger allergic reactions and cause skin redness, hives, and inflammation. Contact dermatitis causes irritation and rashes when your skin encounters poison ivy, poison oak, perfumes, certain skin care products, or strong chemicals (1).
An allergic reaction to some foods such as seafood or medicines can cause skin inflammation as well. For instance, when people with celiac disease eat foods that contain gluten (like wheat), there are chances of skin inflammation causing a condition known as dermatitis herpetiformis (2).
Photosensitivity refers to extreme sensitivity to sunlight that can trigger an immune system response in the body. Typically, a photosensitive reaction can be caused by spending a lot of time in the sun while taking certain types of medication, like certain antibiotics and diuretics.
Also, exposure to sunlight, especially for anyone with an autoimmune disease such as lupus, can cause a rash or skin inflammation. Such photosensitive skin becomes red, burned, and inflamed even after minimal UV radiation exposure (3).
5. Injury Or Wound
Any kind of scrapes, cuts, burns, and surgical wounds can also cause redness and swelling at the site of the injury. This leads to the immune system sending an inflammatory response to help in healing damaged tissues.
Genetics can be a cause of dermatitis or skin inflammation. If others in your family have the condition, there are more chances that you will have it too.
7. Exposure To Chemicals
Certain types of inflamed skin cases are believed to be caused by exposure to chemicals and other similar irritants. Perioral dermatitis (a facial rash around the mouth), for example, is a skin inflammation condition that may be caused by exposure to fluoride in water or toothpaste (4).
8. Environmental Factors
Various environmental factors can make your immune system change the protective barrier of your skin. This can cause more moisture to escape from your skin, which can lead to dermatitis.
Some of the possible environmental factors include certain air pollutants or exposure to tobacco smoke. Fragrances in some cosmetics, skin products, and soap are also possible culprits.
Now that you know the causes, it is also important to identify the symptoms of skin inflammation, which are discussed in the next section.
Symptoms Of Skin Inflammation
The symptoms of skin inflammation typically depend on the type of inflammation you have. Each type may have one or many of the following symptoms:
- Continuous itching (or itchy inflamed skin)
- Rashes that look and/or feel like a burn
- Rashes and bumps that are usually red
- Skin dryness
- Crusting, scaling, and creasing of the skin
- Fluid-filled blisters
- Thickening, hardening, and swelling of the skin
- Painful ulcers that ooze fluid or bleed when scratched
Skin inflammation itself is a symptom of several skin conditions:
- Contact Dermatitis: Contact dermatitis is primarily an allergic reaction caused by certain irritants. It results in rashes, skin redness, and painful or itchy skin. It is caused by coming in close contact with an allergen (such as poison ivy) or irritant.
- Eczema Or Atopic Dermatitis: Atopic dermatitis occurs when there is damage to the skin barrier. This causes the skin to become inflamed, red, dry, bumpy, and itchy.
- Periorificial Dermatitis: Periorificial dermatitis looks very similar to acne or rosacea, and it generally develops around your eyes, mouth, and nose.
- Neurodermatitis: This type of skin inflammation is typically caused by intense itching that irritates the skin’s nerve endings.
- Stasis Dermatitis: Stasis dermatitis is caused due to issues with blood flow in your veins, leading to swollen ankles, itching, scaling, open sores, and pain.
- Dyshidrotic Dermatitis: This type of skin inflammation causes itchy blisters on the edges of your palms, fingers, toes, and the soles of your feet. These blisters can be painful at times.
- Seborrheic Dermatitis: Seborrheic dermatitis, also as known as dandruff, generally appears as dry, red, flaky, itchy skin on your scalp and some other parts of your body.
- Diaper Dermatitis (Rash): Diaper dermatitis occurs in babies when a rash appears on any part of their skin covered by a diaper. The skin generally gets broken down by wetness and waste products.
Read on to learn how skin inflammation is diagnosed in the next section.
How Is Skin Inflammation Diagnosed?
To diagnose dermatitis or skin inflammation, your healthcare provider will take a closer look at your skin. They usually look for the most common signs of dermatitis, such as a skin rash, scales, redness, dryness, swelling, and more.
Apart from this, they may also ask you if you have recently come in contact with anything that may irritate your skin.
In most cases, your healthcare provider will be able to diagnose signs of dermatitis accurately based on examining your skin closely. However, they might perform the following tests if there is doubt about the severity of the condition:
- A skin biopsy to be able to distinguish one type of dermatitis from another
- Blood work to check for accurate causes of the rash that might be unrelated to inflammation
- Skin allergy test
Knowing how to diagnose the condition is not enough to deal with it. You must also know how to reduce skin inflammation. In the next action, we discuss the right treatment methods to heal inflamed skin.
How Can You Treat Inflamed Skin?
You can treat inflamed skin with various topical treatments and home remedies, depending on its cause or how severe it is. If the rash persists even after 24 hours, it is best to consult a dermatologist.
In some cases, skin inflammation treatment also depends on the type of dermatitis and its location. In general, to begin the treatment of inflamed skin, you first need to take care of the things mentioned below:
- Avoid triggers of dermatitis, such as stress, chemicals, smoke, tobacco, and/or several other irritants that cause or worsen the situation.
- The second step in the treatment is to try remedies on your own.
- Lastly, if there is no improvement, opt for the medication prescribed by your healthcare provider.
I. Home Remedies
There are several treatment options for skin inflammation that you can do at home. However, you need to only do them with proper instructions and permission from your healthcare provider. These remedies include:
- Cold Compress/Wet Wrap Therapy: As the name suggests, wrapping something wet around the skin helps to increase the moisture in it and offer relief from dermatitis symptoms.
- Ultraviolet Light: Ultraviolet A or B light waves can help treat skin inflammation symptoms.
- Bleach Baths: This is another good home remedy to treat dermatitis. The amount of bleach used in this treatment should be diluted, and the treatment should not be done more than twice a week. It is recommended to check with your healthcare provider before you start doing this home remedy.
Apart from the above-listed home remedies, there are various other things you can do at home to reduce skin inflammation. These include:
- Always Protect Your Skin: Make sure to stay away from anything that could irritate the skin, such as chemicals or rough clothing.
- Use Moisturizer Liberally: It is good to develop a habit of applying moisturizer right after you shower or bathe. This helps to keep your skin hydrated.
- Do Not Overheat Your Environment: Always keep your space at a cool temperature to let your skin breathe. Avoid high humidity.
- Reduce Stress: Take steps to keep your stress levels down and take some time out for rest, leisure, and relaxation. If needed, visit a therapist for counseling.
- Avoid Scratching Your Skin: Scratching your skin continuously can further irritate it and increase the chances of infection.
- Bathe In Lukewarm Water: Make sure to use lukewarm water for showering instead of hot water. Also, limit the number of showers to a maximum of two a day. Avoid washing your skin too much as it can dry out your skin and worsen the inflammation.
- Use A Mild Soap: Do not use soaps that are heavy on chemicals. Instead, go for mild ones that are unscented.
Diet is another crucial aspect of the treatment of dermatitis. It is important to avoid food items that can cause inflammation. These include sweetened fizzy drinks, red meat, fried food, and refined flour used in bread and pastries. The food items that are considered anti-inflammatory (as they contain antioxidants that reduce inflammation) include (5):
- Olive oil
- Fruits and berries such as oranges, strawberries, cherries, blueberries, pineapple, and lemon juice
- Nuts like almonds and walnuts
- Greens like kale and spinach
- Fatty fish, such as mackerel, sardines, and salmon
III. Topical Treatments
The topical treatments that can be applied directly to your skin to treat skin inflammation include:
- Immunomodulators, such as calcineurin inhibitors. They work on the immune system directly and help to reduce skin inflammation.
- Various corticosteroid-based skin inflammation creams.
- Antibacterial or antifungal creams for certain types of skin inflammation caused by infections.
- Over-the-counter anti-itching creams such as calamine lotion or hydrocortisone.
IV. Oral Medication
Oral medications for skin inflammation have to be taken on a healthcare professional’s prescription only. Generic antihistamines are prescribed in case of inflamed, red skin caused by an allergic reaction. On the other hand, oral antibiotics and antifungal tablets are prescribed for bacterial infections.
Irrespective of the treatment method you choose, it is important to remember that no treatment can completely eliminate the symptoms of skin inflammation or dermatitis. All the above-listed treatments only help you manage symptoms with varying degrees of success. It is recommended to talk to your healthcare provider about the treatment best suited to your specific condition.
An overactive immune response is responsible for skin inflammation. This can be due to several factors, including an allergic reaction, infection, or immune system dysfunction.
Although the most common symptom of skin inflammation is a rash, there are various other symptoms, such as redness and blistering, that you should look out for. This condition can be treated by a variety of home remedies and topical and oral medications once the proper cause of your skin inflammation has been diagnosed.
Expert’s Answers For Readers’ Questions
How common is skin inflammation?
While some types of skin inflammation are very common, others are less so. For example, contact dermatitis is common in almost 15% to 20% of people, whereas atopic dermatitis affects 2-3% of adults and 25% of children (1).
How long does it take to recover from skin inflammation?
The length of recovery in case of inflamed skin typically depends on the type of dermatitis and the kind of treatment you get. However, even with treatment, it can take several weeks or months to improve. Atopic dermatitis can be lifelong, but you can manage the symptoms with proper treatment.
Can there be any complications related to skin inflammation?
Yes, there can be complications that come with skin inflammation. However, they are not common in all types of inflammation. Some of these are:
• Bacterial and viral skin infections (Make sure not to scratch your skin because it can worsen the infection.)
• Loss of sleep
• Blepharitis (inflammation and infection of the eyelid)
• Conjunctivitis (pink eye)
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