Allergic contact dermatitis (ACD) is a form of contact dermatitis that is the manifestation of an allergic response caused by contact with a substance; the other type being irritant contact dermatitis (ICD).
Although less common than ICD, ACD is accepted to be the most prevalent form of immunotoxicity found in humans. By its allergic nature, this form of contact dermatitis is a hypersensitive reaction that is atypical within the population. The mechanisms by which these reactions occur are complex, with many levels of fine control. Their immunology centers on the interaction of immunoregulatory cytokines and discrete subpopulations of T lymphocytes.
The symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis are very similar to the ones caused by irritant contact dermatitis, which makes the first even harder to diagnose. The first sign of allergic contact dermatitis is the presence of the rash or skin lesion at the site of exposure. Depending on the type of allergen causing it, the rash can ooze, drain or crust and it can become raw, scaled or thickened. Also, it is possible that the skin lesion does not take the form of a rash but it may include papules, blisters, vesicles or even a simple red area. The main difference between the rash caused by allergic contact dermatitis and the one caused by irritant contact dermatitis is that the first one tends to be confined to the area where the trigger touched the skin, whereas in the second case, the rash is more likely to be more widespread on the skin. Another characteristic of the allergic contact dermatitis rash is that it usually appears after a day or two after exposure to the allergen, unlike irritant contact dermatitis that appears immediately after the contact with the trigger.
Other symptoms may include itching, skin redness or inflammation, localized swelling and the area may become more tender or warmer. If left untreated, the skin may darken and become leathery and cracked. Pain can also be present.
The symptoms of allergic contact may persist for as long as one month before resolving completely. Once an individual has developed a skin reaction to a certain substance it is most likely that they will have it for the rest of their life, and the symptoms will reappear when in contact with the allergen.