Background: Contact dermatitis (CD) is an inflammatory skin condition induced by direct contact with a specific chemical. Irritant CD (ICD) is a nonspecific inflammatory cutaneous reaction to an irritating agent. Allergic CD (ACD) is an immune-mediated antigen-specific skin reaction to an allergenic chemical. Objectives and methods: The biomedical literature (human, basic science, veterinary) was reviewed to evaluate the current state of knowledge regarding CD. Results: The incidence of human CD remains unclear, but represents up to 90-95% of all occupational skin diseases. The prevalence of CD has not been established in veterinary medicine. The pathogenesis of CD is not fully understood, but involves a complex cascade of events between resident skin cells, relocated immune cells, pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines. The main difference between ICD and ACD is that ACD is an antigen-specific reaction to an allergenic irritating agent whereas ICD is not antigen-specific. To date, there is no fully validated diagnostic test available for CD. Thus, its clinical diagnosis relies on the patient's history, clinical examination, dermatological tests and, in some cases, research-based assays. The most important factor in CD management is the identification and avoidance of the culprit irritant or allergen. In addition, various topical and systemic therapies can be considered. Conclusion and clinical relevance: CD is a relatively common occupational skin disease in human beings, but the prevalence in veterinary medicine is undefined. It can lead to debilitating clinical signs. Further research in human medicine and even more so in veterinary patients, will be required in order to allow for an evidence-based approach in its diagnosis and management.
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