What Is Eczema?
Eczema is a skin irritation marked by redness, swelling, and itchiness. More serious cases can result in cracked skin, bleeding, and infection. There are several types of eczema, with atopic dermatitis being the most common. Eczema’s initial outbreak often occurs in childhood, though it can appear at any age. It is not contagious but has no known cure. There are, however, a number of steps you can take to control and diminish outbreaks, as well as prevent future reoccurrences.
Eczema is a common medical condition, affecting as many as 15 million Americans. Though it is not life-threatening, it can be unpleasant and a source of serious discomfort. If you or a loved one are dealing with eczema, see your Baptist Health physician for consultation and treatment.
What Types of Eczema Are There?
Eczema comes in a number of different forms:
- Atopic dermatitis: Atopic dermatitis is the primary form of eczema, often arising in children who are also susceptible to hay fever and asthma.
- Neurodermatitis: Neurodermatitis is marked by scaly, red patches on the skin. It frequently occurs in persons suffering from other forms of eczema.
- Hand eczema: As suggested by its name, hand eczema is limited to the hands. It may have an environmental cause (for example, the regular use of chemical irritants on the job).
- Contact dermatitis: Contact dermatitis is the skin’s reaction to an allergen. This might include latex, certain metals, or airborne tree or plant pollens.
- Nummular eczema: This type of eczema is named for its chief symptom, which is the appearance of itchy round spots that look like coins on the skin. (“Nummular” derives from the Latin word for coin.)
- Dyshidrotic eczema: Dyshidrotic eczema causes blistering of the hands and feet. Women are more prone to this form of eczema than men.
- Stasis dermatitis: Eczema of this type is caused by fluid leakage from weakened or dysfunctional veins. It occurs in people with blood-circulation issues, and is associated with varicose veins.
What Are the Symptoms of Eczema?
Eczema has various symptoms, all of them types of skin irritation:
- Reddening of light skin, browning or graying of dark skin
- Swelling that can be warm to the touch
- Scaly patches
- Flaking, fluid leakage, and infection
- Skin cracks and bleeding
- Permanently discolored skin
Itchiness is often the first symptom of an eczema outbreak. Scratching can bring on the discoloration and inflammation of the skin.
What Causes Eczema? How Do I Prevent It?
The exact cause or causes of eczema are unknown but both hereditary and environmental factors are suspected. Hereditary factors might include gene variations that limit or alter the skin’s effectiveness in retaining moisture and forming a protective shield for the body against irritants and germs. Individuals with a family history of allergies, hay fever, and/or asthma seem more likely to develop eczema. Environmental factors might involve the presence of certain allergens, that have a triggering effect on the immune system.
There are a number of steps you can take to reduce the possibility of an eczema outbreak:
- Identify and avoid the allergens and other triggers that set off a dermatological response.
- If you develop an itch, don’t scratch – apply an over-the-counter anti-itch medication instead.
- Don’t wear rough or scratchy clothing.
- Use mild, scent-free or allergy-safe soaps, shampoos, and cleaning agents.
- Take short baths and showers.
- Dry yourself completely following a bath or shower. Bathing tends to dry out the skin.
- Use a humidifier to reduce the dryness of indoor air.
- Apply a moisturizing cream to your skin in the morning and again in the evening.
How Is Eczema Diagnosed and Treated?
Eczema is relatively easy to diagnose. Your physician will examine your skin for evidence of irritation and redness, and also ask questions about your family and personal medical history. This is usually sufficient to determine whether and what type of eczema is indicated.
If preventive measures fail to stop an eczema outbreak, your physician may recommend one or more of the following treatments:
- Wet dressings or bandages for infected areas
- Phototherapy using natural light or ultraviolet A or B wave lengths
- Biofeedback or relaxation techniques for controlling the urge to scratch
- Corticosteroid ointments to reduce itching, moisturize skin, and reverse epidermal damage
- Oral corticosteroids, such as prednisone, for attacking severe inflammation
- Antibiotic cremes to fight skin infections
- An FDA-approved monoclonal antibody, dupilumab, is reserved for only the most serious cases
Atopic dermatitis can affect children as young as one or two. Follow your doctor’s advice when treating an infant’s symptoms.
When Should I See a Physician for Eczema?
If a skin condition becomes so uncomfortable that it begins to interfere with your daily routine, then you should see a physician. This is also true if you develop an infection or have trouble sleeping due to excessive itchiness or some other form of irritation.
If you’re dealing with eczema, let the caring professionals at Baptist Health smooth the way to irritation-free skin. Schedule an appointment with a Baptist Health physician.
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