Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)
Also known as atopic dermatitis, eczema is a group of condition that makes skin red and itchy, inflamed, or have a rash-like appearance. Eczema is very common, affecting more than 31 million people in the United States, according to the National Eczema Association.
People with eczema can experience eczema flare-ups that cause patches of red, itchy skin and other symptoms. Certain factors, such as genetics, exposure to irritants, or some medical conditions, can cause eczema or trigger flare-ups.
A number of factors can increase the risk for developing atopic dermatitis. Eczema causes may include:
- Exposure to chemicals in detergents and cleaners that dry out the skin
- Rough scratchy material, such as wool
- Synthetic fabrics
- Raised body temperature
- Changes in environmental temperature
- Sudden drop in humidity
- Upper respiratory infections, such as colds
- Food allergies
- Animal dander
Certain factors can increase your risk for developing atopic dermatitis. Eczema is more common in children who suffer from asthma or hay fever, for example, and in young adults who develop these conditions later. People who have family members with eczema are also at higher risk of developing the skin issue.
There are several types of eczema; each has its own set of symptoms and triggers. A few of the most common types of eczema include:
The most common type; the rash often develops in the creases of elbows and knees
Develops as the result of exposure to a specific irritant, such as latex or a chemical
Causes dyshidrosis, which are small, fluid-filled blisters that form on the palms of the hands and sides of the fingers, or sometimes on the bottoms of the feet.
Eczema that only affects the hands; often develops after exposing the hands to harsh chemicals
Causes the formation of round, coin-shaped spots on the skin
Eczema symptoms can vary widely between individuals; symptoms can vary between breakouts too, with mild eczema symptoms in one flare up and severe eczema symptoms with the next. Different types of eczema can appear in different parts of the body at different times, too.
- Itch, which can range from mild to severe
- Dry, sensitive skin
- Inflamed, discolored skin
- Areas of swelling
- Rough, leathery or scaly patches of skin
- Oozing or crusting
The eczema bumps that develop with atopic dermatitis can be very itchy. They tend to leak fluid and crust over when scratched.
Eczema in Children
Eczema in kids is common. In fact, at least one in ten children has atopic dermatitis. Baby eczema typically shows up as crusty, flaky patches on a child’s cheeks, forehead, and around the mouth. In young schoolchildren, the eczema rash of atopic dermatitis usually appears on the neck, around the eyes, or on the backs of their knees.
Treatment depends largely on the cause of the dermatitis, its location on the skin, and its severity. Atopic dermatitis treatment typically involves the use of medications that relieve itching or prevent the immune system from overreacting, lifestyle changes, and light therapy. Medications may include antihistamines, hydrocortisone, and immunosuppressants. Eczema cream can deliver these medications directly to the problem area. Lifestyle changes focus on reducing stress. Light therapy, also known as phototherapy, uses ultraviolet (UV) light to decrease inflammation, treat skin rash, and alleviate itching.
The specific treatment plan depends largely on the type of eczema. For example, dyshidrotic eczema treatment may include moisturizing creams and lotions, steroid ointment, creams to reduce inflammation, oral steroids, treatment with UV light, and even drainage of very large blisters.
Lifestyle changes, such as reducing your stress and getting more sleep, can reduce the likelihood of an eczema flare up. Avoiding irritants, such as harsh chemicals, can help.
For more information on eczema, contact a skincare professional. You do not have to live with the discomfort of eczema – treatment can help reduce redness, itching, and other symptoms of atopic dermatitis.
Frequently Asked Questions about Eczema
Skin doctors frequently answer questions about eczema. Many patients wonder how to treat eczema at home. Others ask how to cure eczema permanently.
What is Eczema?
Eczema is a skin condition that is also known as atopic dermatitis.
Is Eczema itchy?
Yes, eczema can make skin very itchy.
What is the best treatment for eczema?
The best treatment for eczema depends largely on its underlying cause, location, and severity of symptoms.
What causes eczema to flare up?
A number of triggers can cause an eczema flare up. Washing your clothes in a strong detergent may cause a flare-up, for example, as can running a fever. Eczema triggers can vary from person to person – what causes atopic dermatitis in one person may not cause it in another.
Is eczema contagious?
No – you cannot “catch” eczema from another person.
Is there a cure for eczema?
There is currently no cure for eczema, but treatment does help control the symptoms.
The National Eczema Association website contains a wealth of information for those suffering from eczema, or for the parents of children who are suffering from the disease.