Eczema is the name for a group of conditions that cause patches of skin to itch, turn red, and flake. Relieving the itch by scratching further inflames the skin and makes the condition worse. Scratching the affected area produces a rash that shows up as a red patch covered with dry, flaky skin. In severe cases, the patch can blister and ooze fluid, which then forms a crust followed by scaling, thickening, or discoloration.
Eczema is most common in children, but it can occur at any age. Over 30 million Americans have some form of eczema. It is a chronic condition that tends to flare periodically. People who have eczema may also have hay fever or asthma.
The meaning of the word “eczema” can cause confusion. Many people use this word to refer to a particular form of the condition: atopic dermatitis. We describe it here in the medical sense, as a family of skin conditions, including atopic dermatitis and other forms, that cause the skin to become swollen, irritated, and itchy. It is important to diagnose the specific form of your eczema in order to treat it effectively and manage the symptoms.
Types of Eczema
The five most common types of eczema are:
- Atopic dermatitis — considered a severe and long-lasting (chronic) form of eczema. It most commonly occurs in childhood and is sometimes associated with a family history of allergies. In some children, the symptoms disappear with age, but more than half continue to have symptoms as adults. Adults can develop atopic dermatitis without having it as children.
- Nummular eczema or nummular dermatitis — characterized by small, well-defined areas of irritated skin.
- Pompholyx eczema — a type of eczema that affects the hands and feet, especially the sides of the fingers, the palms of the hands, and the soles of the feet. It typically appears as intensely itchy watery blisters.
- Seborrheic eczema or seborrheic dermatitis — a very common skin condition characterized by redness and scaly or flaky skin. It most often affects the scalp, where it causes dandruff. It can also develop on the face, upper chest, or back. When it occurs in infants, it is known as crib cap, and usually disappears in a few weeks or months.
- Stasis dermatitis or venous eczema — a form of eczema that develops on the lower legs as a result of poor circulation.
Many other skin conditions are considered to be types of eczema, including the rash that many people get after coming in contact with poison ivy or as an allergic reaction to soaps, cosmetics, or jewelry (known as contact dermatitis). Diaper rash is another form of eczema.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Eczema?
Eczema is sometimes referred to as “the itch that rashes” by medical professionals because the first symptom is usually intense itching, followed by a red and bumpy rash or by dry, flaky patches. When scratched, the inflammation can ooze and become crusty. In adults, the condition can produce thickened plaques of skin which sometimes develop painful cracks.
Eczema can develop anywhere on the body, but it is most commonly found on the neck, arms, and legs. Some forms of eczema are characterized by their appearance on specific areas of the body: pompholyx eczema on the hands and feet; stasis dermatitis on the lower legs; seborrheic eczema on the scalp, face, chest, and back.
Affected areas usually appear very dry, thickened, or scaly. In fair-skinned people, these areas may initially appear reddish and then turn brown. Among darker-skinned people, eczema can affect pigmentation, making the affected area lighter or darker. In infants, the itchy rash can produce an oozing, crusting condition that occurs mainly on the face and scalp, but patches may appear anywhere.
The appearance and location of eczema rashes vary widely from person to person and may change over time. You may have a rash on one part of your body one year, and on another part of your body the next. The symptoms can also disappear for a time and then recur in a flare-up.
If you have symptoms of eczema, contact Comprehensive Dermatology Center of Pasadena today for an examination and consultation.
What Causes Eczema?
While the exact cause of eczema is not known, researchers have found that it develops because of a combination of genetic factors and environmental triggers. In this, it follows the pattern of many allergic conditions. When an irritant activates the immune system, the skin cells can overreact, causing an eczema flare-up. They may also underreact, failing to protect the skin from bacteria and irritants, and failing to retain moisture at the skin’s surface.
The genetic factor in eczema can result in clusters of cases in families. If you have eczema, your child is more likely to have it. Eczema is also related to other allergies in ways that are not fully understood. People with eczema are more likely to also have other allergies or asthma, and children of parents with allergies or asthma are more likely to have eczema. In some children, food allergies may play a role in causing eczema.
One thing is certain: eczema is not contagious. You can’t “catch” eczema from another person through contact with the affected skin, and other people can’t catch it from you.
How Is Eczema Treated?
There is no cure for eczema, but treatments are available to control the symptoms and minimize skin irritation and discomfort. At Comprehensive Dermatology Center of Pasadena, our goal in treating your eczema is to relieve itching and prevent scratching, which can lead to a worsening of the condition and to infection.
We offer guidance on cleaning and moisturizing affected skin to soothe it and prevent infection. We will also work with you to identify and help you avoid triggers that may cause your condition to flare.
Depending on the type of eczema you have and its severity, we may prescribe steroidal creams and lotions, which should be applied when the skin is damp after bathing to help the skin retain moisture. If you have developed a bacterial infection that is complicating the rash, we will also prescribe antibiotics.
We may also suggest other eczema treatments, such as antihistamines, tar treatments (chemicals applied to the skin to reduce itching), or phototherapy (a treatment that uses ultraviolet light to reduce irritation and stimulate the skin’s natural healing processes).
In severe cases, we may prescribe immunomodulator medications — either immunosuppressants or biologic drugs. These powerful remedies work to control unhealthy immune reactions that can cause extreme skin irritation.
Contact Comprehensive Dermatology Center of Pasadena today to learn how we can help you manage your eczema with state-of-the-art treatment and careful attention to your unique symptoms and triggers.
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