What is eczema?

Eczema is a type of skin disorder, which becomes apparent on the skin surface in forms of dry and red itchy patches. Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema that appears as an allergic reaction.

Eczema mostly becomes itchy. The scratching of the itchy patches turns the skin red and results in inflammation. According a report nearly 15 million American people have been affected by different types of eczema. Although adults and children are mostly found to have eczema, sometimes babies too are affected by this skin condition.

Eczema can be hereditary also which means those with family history of eczema are likely to be affected by this condition.

Although the exact cause behind the occurrence of eczema is not yet known, researches suggest that it is not a communicable disease. Though effective cure of eczema is not available, yet it is possible to manage it by avoiding some triggering factors.

What are the types of eczema?

Eczema, which is also known as “dermatitis,” is not confined to only one particular skin condition. It can be of several types and sometimes a person can be found to have more than one type of eczema. Here are different types of eczema:

Atopic dermatitis: It is also called atopic eczema, which is associated with a long-lasting skin inflammation. This type of eczema is not a contagious, but it is mostly found to be inherited by those with a family history of this condition.

Contact dermatitis: It occurs as a localized reaction involving redness, itchiness and burning sensation on the skin as a result of its exposure to allergens or irritants. Photo toxic dermatitis results from activation of allergens or irritants by sunlight.

Dyshidrotic dermatitis: Dyshidrotic dermatitis (pompholyx) is a type of eczema in which small itchy bumps appear before turning into rashes on the skin. It commonly affects the hands and the feet.

Hand dermatitis: Hand dermatitis is described as a disorder of skin of hands involving excessive burning sensation as a result of contacts with allergens or irritants.

Neurodermatitis: Neurodermatitis (lichen simplex chronicus) can be described as chronic itching and scratching on the skin. This condition turns the skin thick and leathery in the affected area.

Nummular dermatitis: Nummular dermatitis (also called discoid dermatitis) is the skin disorder, which is association with the formation of itchy lesions appearing like ovals on the skin.

Occupational dermatitis: The condition involving redness, itching and blistering of the skin as a result of contact with certain allergens or irritants in the workplace is called occupational dermatitis.

Seborrheic dermatitis: Seborrheic dermatitis is a skin condition resulting in the flaking of the skin. It usually occurs on the scalp. This condition is mostly known as dandruff in adolescents and adults while in babies, it is called "cradle cap."

Stasis dermatitis: Stasis dermatitis is a condition associating the swelling, burning, itchiness and discoloration of the skin on the lower legs as a result of pooling of blood and fluid.

How does it look and feel like?

Although the appearance of eczema varies from person to person, yet the affected skin is mostly found to have dry, reddish and itchy patches. The itchy patches turn into rashes when they are scratched.

Though eczema can affect any part of the body, in infants it is mostly found to affect forehead, cheeks, scalp, neck, arms and even legs. Children and adults can be found to have eczema on face, neck, arms, knees and ankles. Eczema in some people can be observed to be bubbling up and oozy while in others, it comes up in forms of scaly, dry, and red patches. The affected skin becomes thicker taking on a leathery texture in some people as a result of scratching.

Causes of eczema

Although exact causes behind occurrence of eczema are not known, yet it is found to be inherited trait in many people. A child whose parents and grandparents had suffered eczema or those other conditions like asthma or hay fever, which are closely associated with it, is most likely to inherit it.

The condition of eczema may be aggravated with chewing of tobacco, smoking and exposure to hot, humid, dry and cold weather.

Some pollutants and allergens such as dust mites, plant pollens and pets. Stress or tension can also aggravate the condition.

Moreover the condition may be triggered by a person's sensitivity to some food products like dairy, wheat, citrus fruits, preservatives and colorings.

Prevention of eczema

Taking precautions is key to prevention of eczema. Here are some tips, which can help you minimize the chances for eczema flare -ups and reduce its severity:

Apply moisture on your skin as frequently as possible.

Avoid exposure of your skin to fluctuating temperatures or humid atmosphere.

Avoid performing tasks that can either make you seat or overheat.

Take rest and avoid tension.

Don't use wool and other scratchy materials that may result in irritation on your skin.

Don't use harsh soaps, detergents, and solvents.

Don't expose yourself to polluted atmosphere and allergens. Keep away from pollens, molds, mites and small scales from animal skin as they may trigger and aggravate the condition. This is one of the effective natural cure for eczema.

Avoid eating foods that may result in the outbreak.

Eczema Treatment

The first and foremost requirement for treatment of eczema is to avoid scratching. Since the condition of eczema usually involves dryness and itchiness on the affected portion of the skin, it is essential to apply lotions or creams to moisturize the skin.

The creams or lotions will bring effective results if they are applied shortly after bathing because the moisture from the bath can be retained and sealed in the skin. The application of cold compresses to the skin can bring much needed relief from itch.

If you don't get desired results even after trying those methods, you would better apply nonprescription corticosteroid creams to the affected surface so as to get relief from the burning sensation.

Eczema often leads to infection on the affected skin. In such a case, your doctor may advice you to take topical or oral antibiotics to destroy the bacteria, which causes infection.

In case of severe itching, you can use sedative antihistamines which are available either on prescription or over-the-counter, so as to get relief from itch. It is better to use antihistamines in the evening in order to get a sleep and relief from restlessness caused by eczema. However, a person taking these agents should avoid driving because, considering the sedative effect.

Tar treatments and photo therapy are also other options for treatment of eczema. If therapy fails to bring desired results, your doctor may advise you to take drug cyclosporine A in order to improve the immune response. But this drug should be used only in severe cases because it has tremendous side effects.

The US Food and Drug Administration has approved two topical medications-tarcolimus and pimecrolimus, which come under category of calcineurin inhibitors, to treat patients with atopic dermatitis. Such medications help modulate the immune response.