Eczema is the name for a group of conditions that cause the skin to become red, itchy and inflamed.
Eczema is not contagious. While the exact cause of eczema is unknown, researchers do know that people who develop eczema do so because of a combination of genes and environmental triggers. When an irritant or an allergen “switches on” the immune system, skin cells don’t behave as they should be causing an eczema flare-up. The most important thing to remember is that eczema and its symptoms are different for everyone. Your eczema may not look the same on you as it does on another adult, or on your child. It may even appear in different areas of the body at different times. For many people, the itch is usually only mild, or moderate. But in some cases it can become much worse and you might develop extremely inflamed skin. Sometimes the itch gets so bad that people scratch it until it bleeds, which can make your eczema worse. This is called the “itch-scratch cycle.”
Types of eczema
- Atopic Dermatitis: Atopic dermatitisis a chronic, itchy skin condition that is very common in children but may occur at any age. It is also known as eczema and atopic eczema, and was formerly known as Besnier’s prurigo. It is the most common form of dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis arises because of a complex interaction of genetic and environmental factors. These include defects in skin barrier function making the skin more susceptible to irritation by soap and other contact irritants, the weather, temperature and non-specific triggers.
- Allergic contact eczema (dermatitis)- a skin reaction following contact with a substance/ allergen that the immune system recognizes as foreign.
- Dyshidrotic eczema- irritation of skin on palms of hands and soles of feet characterized by blisters.
- Neurodermatitis- scaly patches of skin on head, forearms, wrists, and lower legs caused by a localized itch such as an insect bite.
- Nummular eczema- circular patches of irritated skin that can be crusted, scaling, and itchy.
- Seborrhoeic eczema- oily, scaly yellowish patches of skin, usually on scalp and face.
- Stasis dermatitis- skin irritation on lower legs, usually related to circulatory problems.
Causes of eczema
- Pollen: Pollen is one of the many potential triggers of eczema. Environmental factors are also known to bring out the symptomsof eczema; these include:
- Irritants- soaps, detergents, shampoos, disinfectants, juices from fresh fruits, meats, or vegetables.
- Allergens- dust mites, pets, pollens, mold, and dandruff.
- Microbes- bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, viruses, and certain fungi.
- Hot and cold temperatures- very hot or cold weather, high and low humidity, and perspiration from exercise.
- Foods- dairy products, eggs, nuts and seeds, soy products, and wheat.
- Stress- it is not a cause of eczema but can make symptoms worse.
- Hormones- women can experience worsening of eczema symptoms at times when their hormone levels are changing, for example during pregnancy and at certain points in their menstrual cycle.
Common Symptoms of Eczema
- Dry, sensitive skin
- Red, inflamed skin
- Very bad itching
- Dark colored patches of skin
- Rough, leathery or scaly patches of skin
- Oozing or crusting
- Areas of swelling
You might have all of these symptoms of eczema or only just a few. You might have some flare ups or your symptoms could go away entirely. But the only way to know if you have eczema for sure is to visit your doctor so he or she can look at your skin and ask you about your symptoms.