What is Eczema?

Eczema is a prevalent condition characterized by inflamed, itchy, and dry skin, often accompanied by rashes, scaly patches, blisters, or discoloration. It affects over 30 million Americans and can manifest at any age, though it’s most common in children and adolescents. Eczema can range from mild to severe and tends to recur periodically as a chronic condition.

What Are the Different Types of Eczema?

Different types of eczema include:

  • Atopic Dermatitis: This is the most common type, often seen in children and improving with age. People with this type may also have asthma, hives or hay fever and other allergies.
  • Contact Dermatitis: It happens when your skin reacts to something it touches, like certain creams, metals, or cleaning products.
  • Dyshidrotic Eczema: Also called pompholyx, it causes blisters on the hands, palms, and sometimes feet. Allergies, stress, or fungal infections can trigger it.
  • Hand & Foot Eczema: Eczema may appear only on the hands or feet due to allergies or infections. It can be linked to other types of eczema.
  • Neurodermatitis: When patients scratch due to chronic itch or even as a habit, or they experience chronic rubbing in an area, they can develop thick, scaly patches on the skin and even nodules.  Typically, there is an underlying skin disease like eczema or psoriasis.
  • Stasis Dermatitis: Poor circulation in the legs can cause fluid buildup and red, scaly skin, often accompanied by varicose veins.
  • Nummular Eczema: This type forms small, round patches on the skin, possibly due to allergies, insect bites, or dry skin. It’s more likely to affect those already with eczema.

What Are the Causes of Eczema?

Eczema is an immune-mediated disease that can stem from various factors, unique to each individual. Genetics can contribute, especially when the skin struggles to retain enough moisture. While it’s not contagious, environmental influences matter too. Allergies or immune reactions often trigger eczema, and stress can worsen flare-ups. Living in dry climates or having a job with frequent exposure to harsh chemicals increases the likelihood of developing eczema.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Eczema?

Symptoms of eczema can vary widely depending on the type and severity. Common signs include:

  • Dry skin
  • Scaly patches
  • Rashes
  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Irritation
  • Inflammation
  • Cracking and bleeding of the skin

What Are the Risk Factors of Eczema?

While the exact causes of eczema are not always clear-cut, several factors can increase your risk. Genetics play a significant role; if eczema runs in your family, you’re more prone to developing various types of it. Environmental triggers, such as cold, dry climates or allergies, can also heighten your risk. Additionally, experiencing severe emotional stress can make outbreaks more likely.

How Is Eczema Diagnosed?

Typically, a dermatologist can diagnose eczema through a physical examination of the skin. Occasionally, a skin biopsy might be necessary. This involves taking a small sample of skin for testing to identify the exact cause of the rash.

What Are Possible Treatments for Eczema?

The treatment approach for eczema varies based on its nature and underlying cause. Common treatments may involve using moisturizing creams, topical corticosteroids, or medications that regulate the body’s immune response. Avoiding known irritants or allergens can also be recommended. Phototherapy, or light therapy, might be beneficial for eczema that doesn’t respond to topical treatments. In severe instances, systemic therapy including biologics like Dupixent may be required to control the immune response responsible for eczema flare-ups.

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Are There Preventative Steps or Measures to Avoid Eczema?

While it’s not possible to avoid all causes of eczema, there are effective preventive measures you can take. These include regular moisturizing, reducing the duration of baths and showers, and steering clear of known chemical or allergy triggers. Maintaining a healthy diet and staying physically active can also be beneficial. Additionally, it’s important to refrain from scratching rashes to prevent infection and other complications.

What Are the Risks if Eczema Is Left Untreated?

Without proper treatment, eczema can result in persistent itching, redness, inflammation, and irritation. Beyond discomfort and appearance concerns, this can elevate the risk of infection due to scratching or skin cracking.

Are There Other Related Conditions to Eczema?

Atopic dermatitis often shares connections with various other types of eczema such as irritant or allergic contact dermatitis. Patients with eczema are more likely to have or develop allergies, hives and asthma.

Meet Donnelley Dermatology

Dr. Naomi S. Donnelley, M.D., FAAD, is a board-certified dermatologist with over 20 years of post-residency experience. She specializes in general medical, surgical, and cosmetic dermatology, and sees both pediatric and adult patients. She is a Diplomate of the American Board of Dermatology, a member... Learn More »

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