Eczema is a nonspecific term for many types of skin inflammation. There are different categories of eczema, which include allergic, contact, irritant, and nummular eczema. It is very common and it is generally manageable.
It is common for babies and children to develop eczema on their faces. Often eczema goes away as a child grows. Adults can develop eczema even if they never had it as a child. Eczema is more common in children who suffer from asthma or hay fever.
People with family members who have eczema are also at higher risk of developing the condition.
There are 11 different types of skin conditions that produce eczema.
- Atopic dermatitis
- Irritant dermatitis
- Allergic contact dermatitis
- Stasis dermatitis
- Fungal infections
- Pompholyx (dyshidrotic eczema)
- Lichen simplex
- Nummular eczema
- Xerotic eczema
- Seborrheic dermatitis
The symptoms of eczema include the following –
- Skin is almost always itchy – Sometimes itching starts before a rash appears, but when it does appear, the rash generally appears on the face, the back of knees, the wrists, hands, or feet.
- Dry, sensitive skin
- Red, inflamed skin
- Affected areas usually appear very dry, thickened, or scaly
- Tiny blisters that weep and ooze, eventually produce crusted, thickened plaques of skin.
- Oozing or crusting
- Areas of swelling
You may experience all of these symptoms of eczema or only just one or two.
The exact cause of eczema is unknown. It is thought to be linked to an overactive response by the body’s immune system to an irritant. It is the response that causes the symptoms of eczema. An eczema flare-up is when one or more eczema symptom appears on the skin. Common triggers of eczema flare-ups include –
- Chemicals found in cleaners and detergents that dry out the skin
- Rough scratchy material like wool
- Synthetic fabrics
- Raised body temperature
- Temperature changes
- A sudden drop in humidity
- Food allergies
- Animal dander
- Upper respiratory infections
To diagnose eczema, the doctor will order a complete physical exam and ask you questions about your symptoms.
There is no specific test that can be used to diagnose eczema. In most cases, a patch test is used to pinpoint certain allergens that trigger symptoms, like skin allergies associated with contact dermatitis. During a patch test, an allergen is applied to a patch that is placed on the skin. If you are allergic to that allergen, your skin will become inflamed and irritated.
It is important to distinguish the different causes of eczema because effective treatments often differ.
Oral over-the-counter antihistamines may relieve itching. They work by blocking histamine, which triggers allergic reactions.
Cortisone creams and ointments relieve itching and scaling. But they should not be used long-term because of the side effects, which include thinning of the skin, irritation, and discolouration.
If there is an infection, the doctor may prescribe an antibiotic.