Patches of red, dry, sometimes blistering, itchy skin, also known as dermatitis
- Age, gender, genetics, and lifestyle as risk factors depend on the type
The main feature of eczema is red, dry, itchy skin that may be covered with small, fluid-filled blisters. The affected skin may become thickened as a result of persistent scratching. Eczema tends to recur intermittently throughout life.
What are the types?
There are several different types of ec-zema. Some are triggered by particular factors, but others, such as nummular eczema, occur for no known reason.
This is the most common form of eczema. It usually appears first in infancy (see Eczema in children) and may continue to flare up during adolescence and adulthood (see Atopic eczema). The cause of the condition is not known, but people who have an inherited tendency to allergies, including asthma, are more susceptible to it.
Direct contact with an irritant substance or an allergic reaction to a substance can result in a type of eczema known as contact dermatitis, an inflammation of the skin. It can occur at any age.
This form of eczema affects infants and adults. The precise cause of seborrhoeic dermatitis is unknown, although the condition is often associated with a yeast-like organism on the skin.
Otherwise known as discoid eczema, this form of the condition is much more common in men than in women. Itchy, coin-shaped patches develop on the arms, legs, or trunk and the affected areas of skin may ooze and become scaly or blistered. The cause is not known but may be related to atopy (allergy).
Most common in elderly people, especially in winter, this is caused by drying of the skin that occurs with aging. The scaly rash is random and cracked.
Also known as dyshidrotic eczema, this condition occurs where the skin is thickest, such as on the fingers, the palms, and the soles. Numerous itchy blisters develop, sometimes joining to form large, oozing areas. The cause is not known.
What is the treatment?
Try to keep your skin moist with emolients (see Emollients and barrier preparations), take short, lukewarm showers or baths, and use mild soap, or avoid using soap altogether and use moisturizer as a soap substitute. You can also use oils in the bath to help keep your skin moisturized. Topical corticosteroids help to reduce inflammation and itching. You should avoid contact with substances that may irritate the skin. If contact dermatitis occurs, patch testing can be carried out to identify a trigger substance. Most forms of eczema can be controlled successfully.
From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.
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