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Eczema or dermatitis is a generic term for a group of medical conditions that cause the skin to become inflamed, irritated, and/or itchy with patches of dry, red, severely blistered or cracked skin that may have scales or crust.

Image of person with eczema on hand

1. While there are several types of eczema, each with their own causes and symptoms, two are the most common.

A. Contact dermatitis: Which is generally caused by exposure to an allergen or irritant

  • Irritant contact dermatitis occurs when the skin is repeatedly exposed to an irritant, such as a soap, perfumes, detergent, or solvent.

  • Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when the skin becomes sensitized to a specific agent, known as an allergen, such as poison ivy or poison oak or animal dander.

Image of person with allergic contact dermatitis on arm
Allergic Contact Dermatitis

B. Atopic dermatitis: Which is generally caused by genetic, immune or environmental factors.

Affecting nearly 1 in 10 Americans of all ages, atopic dermatitis is the most common, chronic and severe form of eczema, and many people use the terms interchangeably. An estimated 60% of people with this condition develop in the first year of their lives and 90% will develop it before age 5. The annual costs of atopic dermatitis in the United States are estimated to exceed $5 billion. Atopic dermatitis occurs most often in those with other allergic conditions, such as asthma or hay fever, and who have family members with the same issues.

Image of person with atopic dermatitis on palm
Atopic Dermatitis On Palm

2. Eczema is not contagious, even with direct skin-to-skin contact

Eczema is an outcome of our body’s immune response and does not have bacterial, fungal or viral origins that could lead to infections. However, scratching can lead to a skin infection.

Image of person with eczema on palms
Eczema On Palms

3. Children often get eczema during their first year of life

If a child gets eczema during this time, dry and scaly patches appear on the skin. These patches often appear on the scalp, forehead, and face. These patches are very common on the cheeks. No matter where it appears, eczema is often very itchy. Infants may rub their skin against bedding or carpeting to relieve the itch. In children of all ages, the itch can be so intense that a child cannot sleep. Scratching can lead to a skin infection.

Image of baby with eczema on face
Baby With Eczema On Face

4. Treatment of eczema requires a multi-pronged approach

Unfortunately, there is no cure for atopic dermatitis. However, most cases can be controlled with proper treatment. A treatment plan often includes medicine, skin care and lifestyle changes to prevent flare-ups. The outcome of treatment is positive. When eczema develops in infants or young children, the child tends to get better with time. For some children the condition completely disappears by age 2. Only about half of children who get eczema will have it as an adult but commonly becomes milder with age. Typical options to relieve symptoms include:

  • Moisturizers to help relieve dry skin.

  • Cold compresses to help relieve the itch.

  • Corticosteroids to help reduce inflammation.

  • Topical calcineurin inhibitors to help reduce inflammation.

  • Short-term, intermittent use of sedative antihistamines to help the patient get a good night’s sleep.

  • Phototherapy or immune-suppressing oral medications to help relieve moderate to severe cases that do not respond to other therapies.

Image of a woman moisturizing arm
Moisturizing Regularly Can Provide Relief

5. A board-certified dermatologist can diagnose your eczema, determine what’s causing your it and recommend an appropriate treatment.

Whether you or your child have been newly diagnosed with eczema or have struggled with this chronic skin condition for years, you know that finding a treatment that works for you isn’t just important, it is critical. Without proper and effective interventions, people with eczema can experience significant discomfort, itching, and inflammation, low self-esteem, leading to decreased quality of life. Because eczema can be long lasting, it is important to learn how to take care of the skin. Treatment and good skin care can alleviate much of the discomfort.

Additional Reading:

1 – American Academy of Dermatology Eczema Page

2 – National Eczema Society

3 – Eczema Wise App

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