Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is a chronic skin condition that causes very dry and itchy red patches of skin. Eczema bears a striking resemblance to psoriasis, as both conditions are similar in how they present. A dermatologist can determine if you have psoriasis or eczema.
Eczema can strike anywhere on the body, from your scalp to your feet, and most people outgrow this condition when they are young. However, it can progress into adulthood and is common in families with eczema history. Most people with eczema consider it quite debilitating from the constant itching, scratching, and cracked skin conditions they are forced to endure.
Symptoms of Eczema
Eczema symptoms are most commonly moderate to severely dry skin. The skin will also be very itchy and may crack or bleed. If a person with eczema scratches the inflamed areas, they may also become infected and even pruritic.
Areas of the skin will be inflamed, red, and even painful, dependent on where the eczema is observed and if the skin has become cracked. The affected areas can happen anywhere on the body but are primarily present on feet and hands and in crease areas such as behind the knees or front of elbows.
Eczema is a possibility when you experience the following symptoms:
- Intense itching
- Dry and scaly skin
- Crusting, flaking, and cracking of the skin
- Oozing lesions and blisters
Healed lesions may sometimes cause temporary skin discoloration, but scarring is unusual.
Common Types of Eczema
There are many types of eczema, each having different symptoms and causes. However, the most common are the following:
- Atopic eczema. It has a genetic component and runs in families with asthma and hay fever history. Rashes usually show on the scalp, face, neck, buttocks, insides of elbows, and behind the knees.
- Contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis means the skin’s allergic reaction due to contact with everyday objects. Contact dermatitis is one of the most common types of eczema. Its two types are allergic and irritant. Contact dermatitis can be termed irritant contact dermatitis if just initial contact with a particular substance or chemical irritates the skin. On the other hand, it can be called allergic contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction that develops after the skin is exposed to the irritating chemical. Allergic dermatitis, also known as exogenous eczema, results from the skin’s response to allergens. Irritant dermatitis is brought about by the skin’s response to chemicals, such as detergents. Seventy-five percent of contact dermatitis cases are irritant in nature.
- Seborrhoeic dermatitis. It is also known as cradle cap. This type of eczema is common in infants, although adults may contract it. The rash is greasy and develops on the eyebrows and scalp. Scaly red patches may sometimes appear in adjacent areas.
- Xerotic eczema. It results from the skin that becomes so dry that it develops into eczema. The limbs and the torso are often the affected areas. This condition is more common among older people.
- Varicose eczema. It is associated with varicose veins, as its name implies. Poor circulation is also another cause. It usually occurs in the lower legs and is more commonly found in older people.
Causes of Eczema
There are about 3,000 and more allergens that can cause contact dermatitis, and here are the most common ones:
• Fragrances like perfumes, lotions, hair care products, makeup, etc., can cause contact dermatitis.
• Clothing and footwear can also cause this skin condition. For example, wool can irritate the skin, while leather in footwear can irritate the soles and skin of the feet.
• Medicines like topical antibiotics can cause allergic reactions, so it is best to consult a dermatologist with the ideal product to use.
• Exposure to things made of rubber can also cause contact dermatitis.
• Plants like poison ivy and other plants can also cause an allergic skin reaction.
Eczema has different causes or “triggers” but is common in families with a history of eczema and other allergies. Some of these triggers can be obvious, such as naturally dry skin or cold or dry climates. But, amazingly, stress is a massive trigger for eczema flare-ups, as is being overheated and sweating.
Other causes can be irritation from tangible substances like laundry detergent or soap and certain fabrics like wool.
Allergic contact dermatitis develops after several hours of exposure to the irritating substance or object and is characterized by:
• Reddish swollen skin, which is very itchy and can develop into bumps.
• Development of blisters can also happen if the allergic reaction is severe. These blisters may break and may be fluid-filled. When dry, blisters form crusts and dry scales.
• There are several occasions when a person is continuously exposed to the irritating substance, and the affected skin area becomes thick and leathery.
On the other hand, Irritant contact dermatitis develops after a brief exposure to an irritating substance or object.
• Mild irritants such as soaps, chemical-based cleaners, and perfume can cause mild irritation. Skin appears red, swollen, can burn or sting when touched, and patches of lesions or blisters may develop. These blisters may be fluid-filled and may rupture or crack.
• Strong irritants such as exposure to battery acid can cause severe redness, inflammation, scaling, and blister formation.
Who Gets it?
Almost anyone can develop contact dermatitis. Exposure to harmful chemicals and irritating substances can increase anybody’s risk of developing contact dermatitis. On the other hand, allergic contact dermatitis develops only in people who are allergic or hypersensitive to a particular substance or object.
Eczema tends to run in families with a history of eczema, asthma, or allergies, such as hay fever. Eczema is not contagious but can appear so, especially in instances where there is bleeding or oozing. If a child presents with eczema, their chances of growing up with asthma and other allergies significantly increase.
Additionally, there is no known cure for eczema. However, doctors and dermatologists use several methods to help alleviate the symptoms and make the condition more bearable. Hydro-cortisone, steroids, and antibiotics are just a few of the treatment methods employed by medical professionals to treat eczema symptoms.
Eczema is not easy to diagnose since it shows similarities with other skin conditions. To diagnose eczema, doctors first make a thorough physical examination of the skin. The doctor will also delve into the patient’s history. In particular, the doctor will ask when it first manifested and what conditions aggravate the swelling. The person will also be asked about their family history, current medications, and allergies.
A skin biopsy is carried out to rule out other skin conditions. First, a tiny portion of the skin is removed. It is then sent to a pathology laboratory for microscopic inspection.
To determine whether an allergic reaction causes eczema, the doctor may check the blood’s antibody levels and cell count. The doctor may also send the blood for other tests, such as the Paper Radioimmunosorbent Test (PRIST) or Radioallergosorbent Test (RAST), which measures the changes in the level of antibodies when exposed to specific types of allergens.
The doctor may also do skin patch testing to try and pinpoint what triggers the condition. For example, suspected irritants are stuck to adhesive patches and applied to the skin. As a control, another patch that has nothing is also applied. The patches are removed after a day or two. If the skin appears red and swollen under the patches containing substances, the result is positive.
Psychological Effects of Eczema
People with eczema, especially those with visible marks, are generally self-conscious and introverted. They are physically fit and can act normally, but they often have low self-esteem. Eczema sufferers are often embarrassed to scratch their skin in public, so they do it in privacy.
Some people also choose to hide the red patches using articles of clothing, such as hats, scarves, and gloves. Unfortunately, instead of helping, this temporary solution can only aggravate eczema because of sweating and constant rubbing.
Prevention of Eczema Flare-ups
By following a few simple precautions, eczema outbreaks can usually be averted. A few suggestions to help lessen the frequency and severity of the inflammation are as follows:
- Avoid having dry skin. Moisturize it often using a fragrance-free moisturizer like petroleum jelly.
- Avoid sudden temperature and humidity changes.
- Avoid sweating.
- Don’t overexpose your skin to water. Instead, take short baths with warm “not hot” water. Gently pat your skin dry to avoid further irritation. The water evaporation from the skin that has not been immediately wiped dry causes it to lose its moisture.
- Reduce stress. Try to relax and unwind more often.
- Avoid materials that may scratch your skin, like wool. Cotton is your best bet.
- Do not use harsh toiletries and solvents.
- Keep away from environmental factors that may prompt allergies (i.e., animal hair, pollen, dust mites, and molds).
- If you have food allergies, avoid eating certain types of food. For example, some people reported eczema reduction after consuming intense energy fruits like acai berry.
• Direct contact with the irritating substance or object should be avoided. If it is inevitable to avoid contact, wear appropriate safety clothing like aprons, gowns, gloves, and boots.
• Moisturizers can help increase skin moisture and lessen inflammation and skin itching.
• Dermatologists often prescribe oral antihistamines as an emergency treatment for acute contact dermatitis.
• Applying topical corticosteroid treatments to your skin can help reduce inflammation and itch.
• Topical antibiotics may be applied to prevent skin infection.
• Cool compresses may also be applied to the affected area to subside infection and itching.
Prevention of contact dermatitis starts with knowing what triggers your allergic contact dermatitis. Knowing what can cause your allergic skin reaction can help you avoid these substances or objects.
Prevent skin complications by moisturizing skin daily. Use a moisturizer after a bath to lock in skin moisture. Increase room moisture content by using a humidifier. Eat a well-balanced meal and take dietary supplements to increase your body’s resistance to fighting infections. Consult your doctor in any treatment that you would like to start.