Types and Causes of Eczema
Wondering if you might have eczema? Or looking for help controlling your symptoms? This guide will help you understand the condition, or take the first steps towards feeling better.
Eczema is a group of conditions that cause itching and inflammation of the skin. There are several forms of eczema, and they can look very different from one another. Some types are characterized primarily by itch and others by blisters or peeling skin. Eczema can be a childhood condition that fades over time, but it can also be a lifelong problem, and you can develop symptoms for the first time at any age. It is possible to have more than one form of eczema at the same time.
Eczema is not contagious. While as of yet there is no cure, it is possible to minimize your symptoms by identifying and avoiding environmental triggers. When a flare-up does happen, there are plenty of ways to find relief for your dry, itchy skin, from over-the-counter anti-itch lotions to prescription medication.
While only your doctor can determine whether you have eczema and pinpoint which type, this guide can help you better understand the condition. If you already know what kind of eczema you have, it will give you a starting point towards gaining control of your symptoms.
Dermatologists have long known that an allergic immune response is involved in eczema, but it’s only recently that researchers have begun to understand how. Lipids – waxy substances in the skin – are crucial to maintaining a healthy skin barrier that keeps allergens and bacteria out and moisture in. Eczema patients’ immune systems shorten the molecule’s chains of lipids, making the skin less water-repellent, more easily dried out and more susceptible to irritants. It’s still unknown exactly why some people develop eczema and others do not, but both genetics and environmental factors are believed to play a role.
Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema. It typically appears in babies and children, and while many children eventually eventually “grow out of it”, it can last into adulthood or appear for the first time later in life. It is commonly found in people who also have asthma or hay fever.
inflamed skin that can appear anywhere on the body. In children, symptoms are often seen on the face and scalp. In adults, the hands, the insides of elbows and the backs of knees are more likely to be affected. The itch of atopic dermatitis can be intense, and skin broken by repeated scratching is more vulnerable to infections.
When skin is inflamed by direct contact with an external substance, the resulting rash is called contact dermatitis. The two main types of contact dermatitis are irritant and allergic contact dermatitis.
Substances such as detergents, solvents and bleach will cause almost anyone’s skin to react. Even prolonged immersion in water can damage the outer layer of the skin and cause irritation – in fact, water is one of the most common culprits. Certain plants can also cause irritant dermatitis. You may have an immediate reaction to a strong irritant or small doses that gradually inflame the skin.
Sometimes, contact with a substance sensitizes the body’s immune system, causing an allergy to develop. From then on, any contact with the substance will trigger a reaction. Usually the rash of allergic dermatitis appears where the substance touched the skin, but your skin can also react to allergens you have ingested, such as food or medicine. Common allergens include the additives and preservatives in cosmetics and cleansers; metals, such as the nickel and cobalt found in some jewelry and watches; or the studs and clasps found in clothing. Sometimes the rash of allergic dermatitis appears immediately, sometimes it only shows up several days after exposure. Either way, you may need patch testing to identify the culprit.
Dyshidrotic eczema causes clusters of tiny, fluid-filled blisters to appear on the hands and, in some cases, the feet. The blisters occur mostly on the sides of the digits and can be extremely itchy, although in some cases the itch may be moderate or even non-existent. As the blisters dry out, the skin tends to thicken and crack, which can be painful.
but a severe attack may even make it hard for you to walk or use your hands normally. Dyshidrotic eczema usually first appears in adults under the age of forty.
Nummular eczema is one of the rarer forms of the condition. It causes clearly-defined round patches of itchy, inflamed lesions to appear on the skin. These lesions are usually about the size and shape of a coin. Without treatment the patches can last for weeks or months. Sometimes, the center of a patch of nummular eczema clears, leaving a circle that may be mistaken for ringworm.
is more vulnerable to the condition, and minor skin injuries — such as insect bites or small burns — can act as triggers.
Seborrheic eczema produces itching and flaking of the skin in areas rich in oil glands: particularly the face, scalp, chest, armpits and groin. Babies often experience a form of seborrheic eczema known as cradle cap, which usually clears up after a few months. If you have mild seborrheic eczema, your symptoms may be no worse than bad dandruff or the occasional patches of slightly inflamed and flaky skin on your face.
with a scaly or crusty appearance can appear, and the skin of the eyelids and ear canal can become inflamed. People with suppressed immune systems are more prone to seborrheic eczema, and emotional stress tends to exacerbate the condition. It is not caused by poor hygiene.