Have you ever had a red, itchy rash that does not go away? Chances are, it may be eczema. While mild eczema is not life threatening, it may be extremely uncomfortable with an itch. Symptoms usually vary depending on the individual, and may include dry, scaly, red and itchy skin. If left untreated, constant scratching may lead to bleeding, crusting, or broken skin open to possible infection. It is usually easily diagnosed by doctors by a physical check-up, and most of the time, does not require biopsies or additional testing.
What Is It?
According to the National Eczema Association, the term "eczema" is a general term used to describe dermatitis and can be interchangeably used. Although it comes in many forms, eczema mostly describes a dry skin condition that may be relieved by moisturizers and emollients. This skin condition is not contagious, so you cannot pass it on to other people or catch them from someone else.
A specific cause for eczema has yet to be identified. Many believe that this skin condition is attributed to a combination of factors that include:
- Dry, irritable skin
- Issues with the body's immune system
- Emotional disorders
Many of these factors are still speculation, with further research needed to confirm a specific cause for eczema. Factors like asthma and hay fever that are often associated with eczema could pose as possible leads. However, not all people who have been diagnosed with eczema have shown these particular medical conditions.
Since eczema can refer to various types of irritated skin, the types can almost be endless. Here are some of the more common types of eczema:
- Atopic Dermatitis (AD): AD is the most common type of eczema and often affects infants and children. Also known as atopic eczema or infantile eczema, this condition may also affect adults. The appearance of AD can be characterized by irritated, red rashes that can result in small, fluid-filled bumps. Children who have a family history with hay fever, asthma, or allergies are more genetically predisposed to the condition as flare ups of AD are usually triggered by these specific reactions. Fortunately, more than half of infants or toddlers who suffer from atopic eczema "grow out" of the condition by the time they are teenagers.
- Contact Dermatitis: Contact dermatitis, also referred to as contact eczema, is a condition that flares-up upon the skin's contact with irritants or allergens in the environment. The triggers, in this case, can include solvents, detergents, smoke, paint, bleach, fabrics or ingredients found in skin care products. As the name of the condition suggests, direct contact is needed for an outbreak, so contact dermatitis are seen mostly on the hands or parts of the body that touched the allergen trigger.
- Pompholyx Eczema: Also known as dyshidrotic dermatitis, pompholyx is a blistering type of eczema and is limited only to the fingers, palms and soles of feet. Symptoms include inflamed, very itchy patches of scaly skin that constantly flakes and may become cracked and painful. This condition is twice as common in women and is usually results of emotional tension, sensitivity to metal compounds, heat or sweating.
- Discoid Eczema: This skin condition, also known as nummular dermatitis, particularly affects the lower leg and forearm in very dry, sometimes crusty, circular patches. Unlike most eczema, discoid types are usually non-irritating and are not consequences of allergies, hereditary or asthma. It is thought that bacteria infection can be a secondary cause to trigger the flare up, and it is more common in males than females.
- Seborrhoeic Eczema: Seborrhoeic eczema is characterized by a red, scaly, itchy rash in multiple places on the body. The more commonly affected areas include the scalp, sides of nose, eyebrows, eyelids, behind the ears and the middle of the chest. Scaly skin may appear in the form of dandruff on affected areas of the scalp. This form of dermatitis is usually caused by the fungus pityrosporum ovale, a type of yeast that thrives in sebaceous environments. This form of eczema can also affect infants under the age of one, but can be easily treated.
The most common symptom of eczema is red, swollen and itchy skin. The symptoms may vary depending on the specific type of eczema you are dealing with. Blisters and scaly patches are also possible symptoms of eczema. These blisters might also ooze, crust and even bleed. Skin color may also change, and can even become thick and leathery. These outbreaks can appear practically anywhere on the body, and the location of the affected area can be used to classify the particular type of eczema that the person is suffering from.
Unfortunately, there is no known treatment for eczema, but there are many ways to relieve symptoms. For example, there are several easy home remedies that can help relieve itch and irritation should a breakout take place.
- Medication: Most itching and discomfort caused by mild cases of eczema can be relieved through the use of over-the-counter cortisone creams. These creams are easily accessible, cost effective, and can help prevent breakouts if applied frequently. Otherwise, your dermatologist can give prescription-strength topical corticosteroids to help manage more serious cases of eczema. In severe cases, oral steroids may be prescribed to prevent constant flare ups.
- Home remedies: Minor diet and lifestyle alterations can be used, at the discretion of your physician, to help reduce the episodes of eczema flare up. For example, avoiding foods that are inflammatory in nature, such as excessive alcohol or caffeine, may benefit constant eczema sufferers. Avoiding contact with allergens and looking for organic, naturally derived products may also alleviate eczema-prone skin. Lastly, always try to eat a nutritionally-balanced diet to strengthen the immune system to help prevent further allergies that may trigger eczema.