Periorbital dermatitis is common and can be due to the external use of ophthalmic drugs. We evaluated patch test results of the Information Network of the Departments of Dermatology. During a 5-year period (1995-99), of a total 49,256 patch-tested patients, 1053 (2.1%) were eventually diagnosed as allergic periorbital contact dermatitis (APD) and 588 (1.2%) as non-allergic periorbital dermatitis (NAPD). Patient characteristics between APD, NAPD and other cases (OCs) differed with respect to sex (19.7% male in both periorbital groups versus 36.3% in OCs), atopic dermatitis (10.4% in APD versus 60.2% in NAPD versus 16.9% in OCs) and age, APD being substantially more often (68.2%) aged 40 and above than NAPD (52.6%). Several of the top allergens in OCs [such as fragrance mix, Myroxylon pereirae resin (balsam of Peru), lanolin alcohol and potassium dichromate] caused significantly fewer positive test reactions in both periorbital groups. In contrast, thimerosal, phenylmercuric acetate, sodium disulfite, gentamicin sulfate, phenylephrine hydrochloride and benzalkonium chloride tested positively significantly more often in APD but not in NAPD, verifying them as true ophthalmic allergens. Finally, in 42 cases (4%) of APD patients, additional allergens were identified by testing of the patients' own substances (mostly beta-blockers, oxybuprocaine and dexpanthenol), supporting the necessity of testing with ophthalmic drugs as is where individual substances are not readily available.