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Eczema is a common term used for persistent inflammation of the skin. It is also known as atopic dermatitis. Eczema is a Greek word, that means ‘to boil over’.

What is Eczema?

Eczema is the itchy inflammation of the skin that lasts for a long time. It can occur on any part of the skin. The skin becomes itchy, red, dry and cracked. It is very common in infants under the age 0f 1 year as well as many adults. There are many types of eczemas, of which atopic dermatitis is the most common.

Eczema usually occurs on the face, neck, elbows, wrists, groin, behind the knees as well as the ankles and toes. The condition varies person to person and appears in various forms. This is not a contagious disease and cannot spread on contact. There is a period of flare-up and the irritation subsides gradually. It is usually accompanied by asthma or hay fever.

Types of Eczema

There are different types of eczemas that are divided based on their location, appearance or cause. Some of the common eczemas include:

  • Atopic dermatitis:Often the term atopic dermatitis is used interchangeably with eczema. This is because it is one of the most common types of the eczema. The itchy rash appears on the head, scalp, neck, elbows, behind the knees and buttocks.
  • Contact dermatitis: There are two types of contact dermatitis: allergic and irritant. In case of allergic, it occurs due to a reaction to an allergen like nickel. Irritants are those that cause an direct reaction like exposure to soap containing sodium lauryl sulfate.
  • Xerotic eczema: People suffering from severe dry skin develop xerotic eczema. The skin appears dry, cracked and itchy.
  • Seborrhoeic dermatitis: Also called as cradle cap, it is a type of eczema that causes dry or greasy scalp, eyebrows and face of infants. It resembles dandruff and may also appear as thick, yellow, crusty scalp in newborns. The condition is easily curable.

Symptoms of Eczema

Eczema is a very itchy condition of the skin, irrespective of the location. The rash appears on the face, neck, hands, wrists, elbows, back of the knees, feet. Other areas such as the armpit, groin, crack of the buttocks can also develop eczema.

The skin of the affected areas becomes very thick, dry and scaly. The constant scratching makes it very sensitive. One may even observe red to browning-gray patches.

In infants, the skin becomes very irritated and they start scratching their face and scalp with their hands. They may even rub their faces in their bedding to get rid of the constant itch. Thus, affecting their sleep. This is called as infantile eczema. The rash turns the skin from red to brown-gray in color.

What Causes Eczema?

The exact cause of eczema is still unknown. The disease can occur due to a combination of genetic as well as environmental factors. Dry skin with low immunity levels contribute towards an eczema flare up. Stress or emotional upheaval is said to be a trigger for eczema in some cases. Heat, sweating, dry climate as well as coming in contact with synthetic fabrics or certain soaps and perfumes may also lead to eczema.

Diagnosis of Eczema

The physical presentation of the eczema is enough for diagnosis. In some cases, skin biopsy helps confirm the type of eczema.

Treatment for Eczema

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Treatment aims at reducing the itching, inflammation and future flare-ups. Medications such as:

  • Corticosteroid creams or ointments
  • Antibiotics
  • Oral antihistamines
  • Oral or injectable corticosteroids
  • Immunomodulators, etc. can help in relieving the symptoms of eczema.

Infantile eczema is usually treated by using lotions, creams, ointments and bath oils. Oral histamine may help in reducing the itchiness. These medications are a little drowsy, thus, helping an irritated baby fall asleep at night.

Prevention of Eczema Flare-ups

An eczema flare-up can be avoided by taking some precautions. These include:

  • Keep the skin moisturized by using a good skin moisturizing cream or lotion.
  • Avoid sweating or overheating by using fans or ACs around your work area.
  • Keep stress levels to a minimum. Try yoga or other calming exercises to keep stress levels low.
  • Avoid use of very harsh soaps and detergents
  • Do not wear synthetic clothes, wool, etc. that irritates the skin.
  • Do not eat foods that may trigger an eczema flare-up.

Keep your skin moisturized and use topical steroids to keep the flare-ups under control. If the symptoms persist, speak to your doctor for more help.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: March 15, 2015