Evaluation and Management of Patch Test-Negative Patients With Generalized Dermatitis

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Patients with generalized dermatitis are common in dermatology practices. Allergic contact dermatitis is often suspected, and patients frequently undergo patch testing. When the patch testing result is negative, further evaluation and management of these patients are challenging.


The purpose of this study was to survey members of the American Contact Dermatitis Society regarding the evaluation and management of patch test–negative patients with generalized dermatitis.


Generalized dermatitis was the most common term identified for patch test–negative patients with diffuse dermatitis. After having negative expanded patch testing results, most physicians proceeded with additional testing including skin biopsy, complete blood cell count with differential, and liver and renal function tests. The most commonly used systemic treatment is prednisone, followed by methotrexate. Narrow-band ultraviolet B (UVB) is the most commonly used light source. Antihistamines are frequently prescribed. Food allergy is not felt to be causative. This cohort of patients experiences significant impairment in quality of life, stress on personal relationships, and time off work.


The management of patch test–negative patients with generalized dermatitis is challenging. This study provides insight into management of these complex patients. It also demonstrates practice gaps in the management of these patients, indicating a need for further studies to direct the evaluation and management of this patient population.

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