Dermatitis (dur-muh-TYE-tis) is inflammation of the skin that causes itching and discomfort. Infantile seborrheic dermatitis, also known as cradle cap, can be caused by oily skin or hair.
There are many types of dermatitis. Dermatitis can be the result of contact with an allergen or substance like poison ivy or detergents (contact dermatitis). Atopic dermatitis, or eczema, is a type of dermatitis that runs in families and often is associated with allergies or asthma.
Symptoms of dermatitis include itching, burning, or swelling on the surface of the skin. Blisters, scaly, dry or thick skin, and a red rash may also develop. The condition is not contagious.
Treatment depends on the type of dermatitis and what caused it. The doctor may recommend thoroughly washing the area with water or applying moisturizers, corticosteroid skin creams, or other ointments to the affected area. Corticosteroid pills may be prescribed to treat severe cases. Sometimes doctors will recommend leaving it alone.
Most cases of cradle cap don't require treatment, but parents may want to loosen and remove the scales by gently massaging the baby's scalp with a washcloth and washing the baby's hair once a day with mild baby shampoo. After the scales are gone, shampooing can be reduced to twice a week to help control symptoms.
Dermatitis is a nuisance but usually not a serious health problem. It can, however, turn into a bacterial skin infection if not treated properly, so always contact your doctor is you see signs of dermatitis.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.
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