The Ultimate Guide to Eczema
- What Is Eczema?
- Who Gets Eczema?
- Signs and Symptoms of Eczema
- Types of Eczema
- Managing Your Eczema
Have you ever had red, itchy skin or a rash that appears for no real reason? Maybe your child has been prone to rashes on their cheeks or the tender skin on their arms or torso.
If you've asked a doctor about these symptoms, they may have told you that it's eczema.
The name of the condition alone doesn't tell you much. You might be wondering what causes it, what the most common symptoms are, and how serious it can be. If you've been newly diagnosed or have a small child who has eczema, it's only natural to want to learn as much about the causes and treatments as possible.This guide will help you understand more about the condition.
What Is Eczema?
Eczema is often categorized as a skin condition that causes an itchy rash. It can be moderate and cause only mild irritation and redness. In some more severe cases, skin can become inflamed or scaly and the outbreaks can be painful.
The term "eczema" is a general or umbrella term used to describe a number of different skin conditions. Some of the different types of eczema include contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, and stasis dermatitis. You can learn more about these in the section Types of Eczema.
Eczema is a very common condition. It often occurs in young children and babies. Though you can develop eczema at any point in your life, even if you've never had a skin condition before. It's important to note that eczema is not contagious - you can't catch the condition from another person or give it to anyone through proximity. The causes differ depending on the type but you're more likely to develop eczema if someone in your family has it. Environmental factors often play a role in outbreaks and allergens can contribute to the condition in some people.
For parents with young children, eczema can be difficult to manage because children tend to scratch the area which irritates it further. It's important to narrow down the triggers and causes for a child's eczema and treat the condition proactively to reduce outbreaks.
For adults, eczema can often be cause for embarrassment. It's difficult to feel confident when different areas of your skin don't look its best.
Who Gets Eczema?
Over 10% of the population in the US has some form of eczema. It is more prevalent among young children, with 13% of children under the age of 18 diagnosed with atopic eczema alone. The truth is that anyone can get eczema, though it's most commonly begins in childhood.
For some patients, eczema can be a temporary condition that they outgrow. For many, eczema might be a mild condition that reoccurs throughout their life but can be controlled and managed. In other cases, the symptoms can be severe and patients will need to be very proactive in finding therapies that work to reduce their pain and symptoms. The severity and length of outbreaks can be dependent on the type of eczema and certain environmental and lifestyle factors.
There is no definitive cause for eczema. Current theories indicate that there may be both genetic and environmental causes involved. There are a number of triggers that may be involved in your condition. These are external factors that are known to contribute to eczema outbreaks. Paying attention to things like diet, environmental agents, cleansers and lotions, as well as lifestyle issues can give you a good idea of the types of triggers that impact your own outbreaks.
Allergens can often lead to eczema outbreaks and these will be different for each individual. Some common culprits include types of food, laundry detergents, and cleaning chemicals. For many, lifestyle issues can lead to an outbreak. Stress is a known factor in eczema. You might also find poor diet or lack of sleep to be a contributing factor.
Signs and Symptoms of Eczema
Eczema doesn't always present itself with the same symptoms. Your individual skin type and genetics might play a part in where on your body the eczema outbreaks occur or what they look like. Two patients with the same type of eczema may have completely different symptoms. Some people only have mild cases that barely bother them during outbreaks. Others might have very painful swellings that take a long time to heal.
Any of the following symptoms can be present with certain types of eczema (most people will only exhibit a few of these symptoms):
- Hand Eczema. This isn't a type of eczema, but it is a common location for outbreaks. Because we use our hands regularly and handle many different types of materials, outbreaks here can be difficult to control and more painful.
- Itching. Eczema is often itchy. This might range from a mild inconvenience to a very uncomfortable and ceaseless discomfort. For some eczema sufferers, the itching is so severe that they scratch the area, causing more damage and lengthening the recovery time.
Redness. The skin around the area may appear red or the coloring may be part of the rash often associated with eczema.
Swelling. In some cases, there is swelling at the outbreak site which can be uncomfortable. Depending on the location of the swelling, outbreaks might impede regular movement, such as a swelling at a joint.
- Rash. In many cases, eczema presents as a rash in set areas of the body or on the face.
- Blisters. Some sufferers will blister due to their eczema. This can be very uncomfortable and it's important to maintain a good care routine to aid in healing and reduce the chances of skin infection.
- Crusting or Weeping. Skin may appear crusty or scaly in some areas or include weeping of the wounds which should be monitored closely to reduce chances of infection.
- Discoloration of the Skin. There may be areas of the skin which appear darker or discolored in some way.
Types of Eczema
Eczema is the universal term used for a number of types of dermatitis. There are six (6) different types of eczema. Each type has individual causes and symptoms associated with it. Some individuals have more than one type of eczema, so they need to be aware of the differing treatments and which type might be flaring up with set symptoms. Note that eczema is differentiated from psoriasis, due to psoriasis being an auto-immune condition.
It is important to be aware of the type of eczema you have in order to plan the best treatment for your skin and health. The best way to determine your eczema type is by consulting with a physician and getting a proper diagnosis. Your doctor can also make recommendations for over the counter and prescription therapies which can help reduce your number of outbreaks and often speed in healing.
The Six Types of Eczema:
- Atopic Dermatitis. Atopic Dermatitis is the most common type and the term, "eczema" is often used interchangeably with this condition. It's most common in babies and can range in severity, from mild rash and itching to severe crusting or weeping of skin. Scratching the area where the rash appears can irritate the skin and worsen symptoms. This type of eczema may be chronic or you may outgrow it with time as symptoms become less frequent.
- Contact Dermatitis. This is exactly what it sounds like - a rash that appears after contact with an allergen. Contact dermatitis can occur in any area of the body where the contact occurred and will often clear up within a few weeks, if not sooner. The best way to avoid future flare ups is to figure out what the allergen was. In some cases, this can be very simple. If you came into contact with a new soap or product, it's fairly easy to eliminate that from your daily use. You can, however, develop allergies at any time, so the allergen might be something you've used before with no adverse reaction. The symptoms might include a rash, blisters, or irritated, inflamed skin. Over the counter creams can relieve the itch and pain.
- Dyshidrotic Eczema. This condition can sometimes be referred to as "foot and hand eczema" because the flare ups most commonly appear on your hands or the soles of your feet. Symptoms often include blisters which can be painful and itchy. It may take several weeks for the blisters to clear up and the skin will often remain dry and cracked for a period after the blisters have disappeared. This can be a chronic condition that flares up on occasion. In some cases, the flare ups may be so severe that it's difficult to walk when the blisters are on the feet.
- Nummular Eczema. This type of eczema is known for its coin shaped appearance. If often looks similar to ringworm and it's important to have the area checked by a physician to make sure it's properly diagnosed. Like other forms of eczema, there isn't a known cause. This type of eczema is characterized by lesions that may ooze or scab. The skin is often irritated around these lesions and sufferers often complain of severe itchiness. This type of eczema can also be difficult to treat and may not respond to lighter over the counter medications. Unlike other forms of eczema, most of those who have nummular eczema often clear up with no further flare ups or chronic eczema issues.
- Seborrheic Dermatitis. This type of eczema is most often located on the scalp. Symptoms include scaly patches and dandruff. This is a common condition in infants which is often referred to as "cradle cap". In adults it can also impact oily parts of the skin, such as different parts of the face. You'll notice that the condition flares up in cold or dry weather, though it's often easy to treat with good self care.
- Stasis Dermatitis. This type of dermatitis occurs in the extremities, most often the lower legs or feet. Stasis dermatitis is caused by poor circulation where so much pressure builds up the veins that it leaks out into the skin. One symptom of note is swelling in the feet or ankles which may disappear during sleep but return again the next day. The reason for this is that the cause for the swelling is poor circulation and this issue is alleviated when your feet are even with your heart (laying down). Other symptoms include irritated, discolored skin, achy legs, and itchiness. This type of dermatitis occurs in those with circulatory issues and most often those over the age of 50.
Managing Your Eczema
The good news for eczema sufferers is that there are many advances in what we know about triggers and new developments in how to manage the symptoms. Patients today have a great many resources to help them navigate all of the different lifestyle and medical issues which can influence their flare ups.
One key way to help avoid future flare ups and control the severity of them is by recognizing the triggers you have. Each person will have different triggers that can set off their eczema. These might include certain allergens or lifestyle choices or issues. For instance, some people have more flare ups when they're experiencing a great deal of stress.
Of course, life comes with some stress and you probably won't be able to avoid all of it. But you can take extra precautions during stressful times, such as taking better care of your skin, drinking extra water, and making a conscious effort to use tools that relieve stress when possible.
You can't prevent every flare up but you can learn treatment methods that can limit their impact on your life. Some tools you can use to manage your eczema include:
- Lifestyle. A healthy lifestyle improves the way your body feels and behaves, and that extends to your eczema. Some tips to maintain a healthy lifestyle include getting enough sleep, drinking enough water, and maintaining a balanced diet. Often flare ups can be attributed to dietary issues, so it's important to pinpoint any triggers you have and try to minimize your exposure. A healthy lifestyle should also extend to your emotional and mental health because stress is a well known cause for flare ups. You might add meditation or yoga to your routine or develop other routines that help you address anxiety in your life.
- Prescription Medications. Your physician may prescribe you medication to help alleviate symptoms and shorten the duration of your flare ups. Some possible prescriptions include corticosteroids which can aid in decreasing inflammation and easing discomfort. Immunosuppressants may also be an option if your eczema is related to issues in your immune system.
- Natural Treatments. Moisturizers developed to treat eczema can be an excellent way to reduce itchiness and improve the skin overall. Colloidal oatmeal cream provides a natural ingredient that helps to soothe and relieve the symptoms on contact, while helping the skin heal. Other treatments might include gloves to minimize the skin's exposure to allergens when they can't be completed eradicated from the area (for instance, cleaning supplies that might be used at your work).
- Light Therapy. Phototherapy can be used to treat eczema by exposing the skin to ultraviolet light in regular sessions. Often the time is increased with each subsequent therapy session. There might be several sessions before results are seen but it can often result in great improvement in the skin
Eczema is a common condition and there are many groups and resources so that you don't have to suffer with your symptoms alone. For children, the good news is that eczema is often a condition that they outgrow as they age. In cases where there eczema is chronic and lifelong, many will only experience moderate symptoms. Severe eczema can occur but it can often be minimized through various therapies.
The first thing you need to do is discuss your condition with your physician. They can help you determine the types of treatment that will work for your type of eczema. They can also help you to uncover your triggers so that you can avoid flare ups when possible. Your physician may be able to prescribe medications that will help in the short and long term. Some physicians will recommend over the counter and natural remedies, as well, because some of the prescription medications can contain harsh ingredients.
You might find relief with over the counter creams and natural remedies or a combination of different treatments and lifestyle changes. While many forms of eczema are not curable, they are treatable. With good self care and knowledge about how to treat flare ups as they arise, eczema does not need to infringe or your life or enjoyment.