Eczema is a general term used to describe an inflammation of the skin. Eczema describes a series of chronic skin conditions that produce itchy rashes, which appear as scaly, dry and leathery areas, skin redness, or inflammation around blisters. Eczema can appear anywhere on the body, but it is most frequently found in the creases of the face, arms, and legs. Itchiness is the key characteristic and eczema symptom. When scratched, the lesions may begin to ooze and develop a crust. Over time, painful cracks in the scaly, leathery tissue can form, which may lead to infection and the need to see an eczema specialist for treatment.
What Causes Eczema
Eczema affects people of all races, genders, and ages. Most doctors think eczema is hereditary. This skin condition is not contagious. The eczema cause remains unknown, but it usually has physical, environmental, and/or lifestyle triggers. Encountering a trigger, such as wind or an allergy-producing fabric, launches the rash and inflammation. Although it is possible to get eczema only once, most cases are chronic and are characterized by intermittent flare-ups throughout a person’s life.
Common Types of Eczema
Eczema takes on different forms depending on the trigger and the location of the rash. While they all share some common symptoms – like itchiness – there are important differences. The following are some of the most common types of eczema.
- Atopic Dermatitis. The most frequent form of eczema, atopic dermatitis is thought to be caused by the body’s immune system. It is characterized by itchy, inflamed skin, and it tends to run in families. About two-thirds of the people who develop this form of eczema do so as infants. Atopic dermatitis generally flares up and recedes intermittently throughout the patient’s life.
- Contact Dermatitis.Contact dermatitis is caused when the skin meets an allergy-producing agent or an irritant, such as a Finding the triggering allergen is important to treatment and prevention. Allergens can be things like laundry detergent, cosmetics, jewelry, fabrics, perfume, diapers and poison ivy or poison sumac.
- Dyshidrotic Dermatitis. This type of eczema strikes the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. It produces clear, deep blisters that itch and burn. Dyshidrotic dermatitis occurs most frequently during the summer months and in warm climates.
- Neurodermatitis. Also known as Lichen Simplex Chronicus, this is a chronic skin inflammation caused by a continuous cycle of scratching and itching in response to a localized itch, like a mosquito bite. It creates scaly patches of skin, most commonly on the head, lower legs, wrists or forearms. Over time, the skin may become thickened and leathery.
- Nummular Dermatitis.This form of eczema appears as round patches of irritated skin that may be crusted, scaly, and extremely itchy. Nummular dermatitis most frequently appears on the arms, back, buttocks, and lower legs. It is usually a chronic condition that warrants a trip to an eczema specialist.
- Seborrheic Dermatitis. Seborrheic dermatitis is a common condition that causes yellowish, oily, and scaly patches on the scalp, face, or other body parts. Dandruff in adults and cradle cap in infants are both forms of seborrheic dermatitis. Unlike other types of eczema, seborrheic dermatitis does not always itch, but there is likely a hereditary component. Known triggers include weather, oily skin, emotional stress, and infrequent shampooing.
- Stasis Dermatitis.Also known as varicose eczema, this form of eczema is a skin irritation that appears on the lower legs of middle-aged and elderly people. It is related to circulation. Symptoms include itching and reddish-brown discoloration of the skin on one or both legs. As the condition progresses, it can lead to blistering, oozing, and skin lesions.
There is no known cure for these conditions, but there are several eczema treatments available. For mild cases, over-the-counter topical creams and antihistamines can relieve the itching. In persistent cases, a dermatologist will likely prescribe stronger medicine, such as steroid creams, oral steroids (corticosteroids), antibiotic pills, or antifungal creams to treat any potential infection.
As most any eczema specialist will tell you, the best form of prevention is to identify and remove any triggers. People with eczema should also use mild cleansers and keep the skin well moisturized. Do your best to avoid scratching the rash, which can lead to infection, and situations that make you sweat, such as strenuous exercise.
When to See an Eczema Specialist
Eczema is rarely a dangerous skin condition, and most people will not need to visit a doctor. However, chronic eczema can become very uncomfortable and unsightly. Moreover, eczema that has hardened and cracked is susceptible to infection, which will need medical attention. If your condition is severe, visiting the dermatologist can result in a personalized eczema treatment plan.
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