What is Eczema?

eczemaEczema is not actually a dermatological diagnosis, it’s actually a nonspecific term that refers to a variety of different rashes such as atopic dermatitis, irritant dermatitis and contact dermatitis. Eczema refers to the skin changes seen rather than a specific diagnosis. The changes seen include rough texture, dryness, sometimes dampness due to oozing but almost all forms are itchy. Atopic dermatitis is the diagnosis most commonly referred to eczema and is seen most often in children where it can occur as early as four months old. Atopic dermatitis/childhood eczema is not contagious but is recurrent and chronic. While most children will outgrow this condition by age 5, a significant percentage will persist through childhood and into teenage and adult years. This condition is exacerbated by diet in less than 5% of individuals, with allergy testing not helpful in diagnosis or treatment. While the mainstay for years was to use corticosteroids, recent advances now offer steroid-free options.

What Causes Eczema?

The cause of eczema is still unknown, though some suspect that the cause has both environmental and genetic components. Profuse sweating is not a medical cause but often is related. Those with a skin condition like eczema are also often prone to allergies, especially hay fever and asthma.

What Does It Look Like?

Atopic dermatitis appears as a scaling, red rash on the skin. The rash is almost always itchy, with subsequent scratching exacerbating the condition, resulting in an itch/scratch cycle that is difficult to control. The rash may weep, crack and crust over the more it is scratched. It’s most often present in skin creases where moisture can be trapped, such as the creases in the backs of the knees, the neck, the hands and feet, the inner elbows and less often, the trunk.

In a type of pediatric eczema, often referred to as cradle cap, reddish patches appear on the skin of the scalp, around the eyebrows, the face, the forehead, the areas around the nose, behind the ears and in the diaper area or armpits. The patches may or may not itch but are painless.

In nummular eczema, the lesions appear as large spots on the skin that mimic ringworm or a fungal infection. Since they itch, they will weep, dry up and crust over with the constant scratching. Nummular, or coin shaped, eczema is more commonly seen in winter months or in areas of low humidity. It is exacerbated by long hot showers, deodorant or antibacterial cleansers, or excessive scrubbing with abrasive materials such as washcloth, loofah or poof.

Dyshidrotic eczema presents as little blisters that erupt on the hands and feet. This type of dermatitis affects women more than it affects men but affects people of all ages. Before the blisters appear, the person will feel burning and itching in their hands or feet. The blisters are deep, opaque and are either even with the person’s skin or just a bit raised. They are hard to break and eventually merge to form even larger blisters. There are multiple causes for this condition, including environmental and dietary exposures.

How to Treat Eczema

Eczema treatment often involves keeping the skin moisturized. This can be done with petroleum jelly or soothing creams. Bathing in cool or lukewarm water is beneficial, but avoid regular soap, which is too harsh for the skin. Cool water soaks also bring relief when the rash crusts over and starts to ooze. Wearing clothing that is loose and made of soft, natural, breathable material such as cotton is essential, and clothing should not be washed with fabric softeners. Many also find relief sleeping with a humidifier.

In the fall, with the colder weather eczema often flares. New non-steroid treatment options are available to relieve the itch and skin rash.

How to Get Rid of Eczema

Some are lucky enough to have an isolated episode or two of dermatitis. For the majority, this is a chronic condition with lifetime flare-ups. One way to lower the risk of a dermatitis flare-up is to find and avoid the triggers. In some people, bouts of dermatitis are triggered by emotional stress. Other triggers are perfumes, harsh soap and pollutants. Some find a connection between food sensitivities and allergies and the severity of their eczema. Others find allergens such as pet dander or pollen to impact their eczema. In others, the temperature or climate can also cause a flare-up.

If you suspect yourself, your child, or a loved one may have eczema, please call us today at 913-469-1115 to schedule an appointment to confirm the diagnosis and to offer treatment options for this condition. Our caring professionals are here to help with all your dermatology needs.

Adult and Pediatric Dermatology
4601 W. 109th St., Suite 116  •  Overland Park, Kansas 66211  •  913-469-1115