Dermatitis is inflammation of the skin, or epidermis. Many types of dermatitis exist. For example, contact dermatitis happens when your skin touches a chemical that irritates it or causes an allergic reaction. Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, happens because of issues in your immune system.

Spongiotic dermatitis refers to dermatitis that involves fluid buildup in your epidermis. This causes swelling between the cells in your skin. Spongiotic dermatitis is typically seen as red, itchy areas. It can occur anywhere on the body, in one spot or widespread.

Spongiotic dermatitis is a general term that can be seen in many different skin conditions. It is often associated with eczema and other related types of dermatitis. Spongiotic dermatitis is usually determined through a skin sample called a biopsy. If you go in to have a rash, skin irritation, or other skin condition checked out, your doctor may perform a biopsy.

Spongiotic dermatitis may be a feature of eczema, atopic dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, and other allergic skin reactions. Some causes of spongiotic dermatitis include:

  • allergic reactions, such as to medications or food
  • contact with objects that cause irritation, such as chemicals, certain ingredients in cosmetics, or certain metals in jewelry
  • fungal infection
  • stress, which can weaken your immune system and cause breakouts
  • changes in hormone levels
  • changes in temperature or weather conditions

Symptoms that may mean you have spongiotic dermatitis include:

  • scaly patches of irritated skin
  • rashes in the shape of coins
  • skin lesions
  • reddened skin
  • dandruff that’s difficult to get rid of
  • oozing and infection after scratching an affected area

Spongiotic dermatitis can also affect babies with diaper rashes caused by contact dermatitis.

In rare cases, spongiotic dermatitis can indicate a type of skin cancer known as cutaneous T-cell lymphoma. Your doctor can check for this by looking for spongiotic dermatitis and several other factors in a skin biopsy.

Treatment for your spongiotic dermatitis depends on the cause and symptoms of your dermatitis. Your doctor may suggest a combination of medications and home treatments to relieve your symptoms and treat the cause of the dermatitis.

If you have eczema, your doctor may recommend you:

  • use a corticosteroid cream on the site of irritation
  • apply liberal Vaseline or other thick cream to skin daily
  • take bleach baths
  • add probiotics to your diet
  • use a cream to help your immune system, such as a calcineurin inhibitor
  • try relaxation techniques if stress is making your eczema worse

If you have seborrheic dermatitis, which often affects your face, back, and chest, your doctor may recommend you:

  • wash your hair as frequently as possible
  • use shampoos containing ketoconazole, selenium, or zinc pyrithione
  • use steroids on the skin to control flares

Your doctor may also suggest another biopsy or more testing. This can help them find more symptoms if they think that your spongiotic dermatitis indicates a more serious condition, such as cancer.

The risk factors for spongiotic dermatitis are similar to those of other related conditions. These factors include:

  • pre-existing conditions such as Parkinson’s disease, HIV, and heart conditions
  • allergies, especially allergic conditions that run in the family, such as hay fever
  • asthma
  • insect bites
  • frequent contact with certain metals or chemicals, such as in the workplace, especially when they come in contact with your hands
  • younger age

Certain types of dermatitis, such as atopic dermatitis, often happen early in childhood.

Spongiotic dermatitis is a way that dermatitis develops rather than a specific type of dermatitis. Because of this, your doctor needs to take certain steps to distinguish spongiotic dermatitis from other types of dermatitis.

Your doctor may be able to diagnose you simply by examining the appearance of your skin. However, a skin biopsy may provide a more accurate diagnosis of spongiotic tissue in your dermatitis. In a biopsy, your doctor will remove a small sample of your skin to send to a lab. Your doctor will take a skin biopsy in one of three ways:

  • Excisional biopsy: Your doctor removes a sample of your skin with a scalpel to sample the tissue underneath your skin, too.
  • Shave biopsy: Your doctor removes a sample of your skin with a razor or similar tool. It removes a sample of only the top layer or two of your skin.
  • Punch biopsy: Your doctor removes a sample of your skin using a tool called a skin punch. It samples the top layer of your skin and the fat just underneath your skin.

Lab technicians will look at the sample under a microscope. The results of your skin biopsy can take a few days to a few weeks to return, depending on the lab. The results may take even longer if your doctor orders special stains or studies on the skin sample. These results can take as long as a few months.

Biopsy results

Your doctor will look at the biopsy results to determine if your dermatitis tissue is spongiotic. They’ll examine the tissue for fluid buildup, called edema, and for the degree of spongiosis.

If you have spongiotic dermatitis that’s related to eczema, your doctor may also determine what kind of eczematous dermatitis you have.

Patch test

Your doctor may also give you a patch test if they think you’re having a contact dermatitis reaction. In this test, your doctor puts a small amount of a substance that they think you’re reacting to under an adhesive patch on your skin. When you return for a follow-up, your doctor will check the skin under the patch to see if you’ve had an allergic reaction. This test can help determine if that substance is causing your dermatitis.

Your doctor may repeat this test with several substances to see what you might be allergic to.

In many cases, spongiotic dermatitis is a minor skin irritation. It can often be treated at home with creams and home remedies. Dermatitis is not contagious, so you don’t need to worry about spreading it to your friends, family, or other people you interact with.

Sometimes, in chronic cases, the itching and irritation can be annoying enough to disrupt your life. It may interrupt your sleep or make you feel self-conscious about your skin. If this happens, talk to your doctor about a treatment plan that works for you.

Learn more: Atopic dermatitis treatment options »