Eczema is a general term for an inflammation of the skin (dermatitis). The most common type of eczema is the form called atopic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis is usually associated with a group of diseases which is often inherited, such as asthma and hay fever.
Eczema affects about 10% to 20% of infants and about 3% of adults and children in the United States. Some children outgrow eczema. For others, it is a chronic condition that continues throughout adult life.
The main symptom of eczema is pruritus or itchy skin. There are times, when a patient’s first symptom is itching with almost no obvious rash. Classic locations on the body for eczema are the face, back of ears, back of the knees, wrists, hands, or feet. Generally you will see red scaly patches which can crust, turn brown and either become hyper-pigmented or hypo-pigmented as the eczema heals.
The precise cause of eczema is unknown, but it is believed to be linked to an overactive response by the body’s immune system to an irritant. It is this response that causes the symptoms of eczema. Some forms of eczema can be triggered by substances that come in contact with the skin, such as soaps, cosmetics, clothing, detergents, jewelry, or sweat. Stress and changes of temperature or humidity can also worsen eczema.
There are different types of eczema ranging from atopic dermatitis which is usually genetically and starts in childhood to contact dermatitis which is typically a reaction to an irritant such as nickel or poison ivy. Other forms of eczema are nummular eczema which occurs in round coin-shaped areas, and dyshidrotic eczema which is predominantly on the hands and feet in the form of vesicles.
Dr. Michele Green will evaluate your history, physical exam, and family history. A biopsy of the skin or skin allergy testing may be advised to make the correct diagnosis.
Treatment for eczema is a combination of preventing itching, inflammation and worsening of the condition. Topical emollients, steroid creams, and oral antihistamines may be prescribed. Taking oatmeal baths and avoiding hot showers typically help this condition. Lifestyle modifications to avoid triggers for the condition are also recommended by Dr. Green.