Eczema, or dermatitis, is a common non-contagious skin condition that causes patches of skin to be itchy, inflamed, swell, and crack and become rough. There are also types that cause blisters to develop.
According to the National Eczema Association, 31.6 million Americans, or over 10% of the total U.S. population, are afflicted by different stages and types of eczema.
The term eczema is what many people use to refer to atopic dermatitis. It happens to be the most common type. Conditions that affect or involve the immune system collectively are referred to as Atopic. This includes: Atopic dermatitis, hay fever, and asthma. Dermatitis on the other hand refers to the inflammation of the skin.
Types of Eczema
Eczema is a condition that is common among children, however, adults can have it too. People with eczema, along with itchy and red skin patches often have asthma or allergies.
There are several types of eczema. These types include:
1. Atopic dermatitis: is the most common form of eczema. This type of eczema usually manifests in childhood and gets milder into adulthood. It is often accompanied by two other afflictions namely: hay fever and asthma. Many people with atopic dermatitis usually have all three conditions.
When your skin’s natural barrier against the elements is weakened Atopic dermatitis happens. When this happens, your skin is unable to protect you against allergens and irritants.
2. Dyshidrotic eczema: This type manifests on the palm of the hands and the soles of the feet. It usually causes blisters to form and it is found to be more common among women than on men.
3. Neurodermatitis: Similar to atopic dermatitis, it causes thick scaly patches of skin to pop up. The condition occurs due to a localized itch, such as from an allergen or a bug bite.
The thick scaly patches usually form on the arms, legs, the nape, scalp, the backs of your hand, the soles of your feet, and even on your genitals.
It usually manifests in people who already have other types of eczema and/or psoriasis. Though it is not clear what causes it, doctors believe that stress could trigger it.
4. Nummular eczema: also known as discoid eczema, it manifests coin-shaped patches or spots on your skin. It looks different from other eczema and has the tendency to itch a lot. The patches or spots also have the tendency to become scaly and very itchy.
5. Hand eczema: As implied, this condition affects your hands. It is common among people who work with their hands such as hairdressing, cleaning, laundry or dry cleaning, and healthcare where the skin of the hands are exposed to chemicals that may irritate skin.
6. Stasis dermatitis: This type affects people who happen to have blood flow problems in their lower extremities, particularly their legs. It is common for people afflicted with this type to have swollen lower legs, or their legs feel heavy or have aches. They also usually have varicose veins and the skin over those veins becomes dry, itchy and also the development of open sores.
All forms or types of eczema can cause the skin to become dry, itchy, and inflamed. People afflicted with one form or type of eczema can also develop other types of the condition.
Symptoms of Eczema
Symptoms may vary depending on the age of the person afflicted with atopic dermatitis. Common symptoms for all types of eczema include:
- Itchy skin that turns red, accompanied by burning or stinging sensation.
- Hives may pop up on your skin.
- The formation of fluid-filled blisters that may ooze and crust over
- The skin becomes scaly, thicken, or become leathery over time.
People with eczema usually have periods wherein they exhibit no symptoms followed by periods there their symptoms flare up. This pattern is referred to as a relapsing-remitting pattern.
Causes of Eczema
Though it is not contagious, and the primary cause or causes of eczema is unknown. Medical practitioners believe that eczema may likely be caused by environmental and genetic factors, and their immune system functions.
It is believed that environmental and genetic factors might be involved in triggering flare ups. Eczema is a long-lasting disease of the skin. It may get better or worse over time.
People with eczema tend to have overly active inflammatory responses, this means that their bodies react to skin irritants more than they should. This explains why people with eczema may also exhibit asthma or rhinitis.
There are certain trigger foods such as nuts and dairy, which can trigger eczema symptoms. There are also environmental triggers that people have to look out for if they don’t want to cause a flare up of their condition, such as: pollen, certain soaps, fragrances, and smoke.
Some people may outgrow their condition, if not, they probably will have it throughout their adult lives.
Treatment of Eczema
Unfortunately, eczema is a chronic condition which means, there is no known cure as of yet. Treatment options available are to soothe and heal the afflicted skin and to prevent the flaring of symptoms.
Accordingly, doctors will usually draw up a treatment plan based on the individual’s age, symptoms and current state of health.
- Your doctor may prescribe corticosteroid creams or ointments to control itching and help repair skin. Do not overuse this drug since its side effect includes thinning skin.
Your doctor may also prescribe other creams that contain calcineurin inhibitors such as pimecrolimus (Elidel) or tacrolimus (Protopic). These drugs affect your immune system and should be used only by people older than two years of age.
It is also advised that people using these medications should avoid strong direct sunlight when using these products.
- If your skin has a bacterial infection, open sore or cracks, your physician may prescribe an antibiotic cream. Additionally, the intake of oral antibiotics can also be considered and prescribed only for a short period of time to treat infections.
- In severe cases, your doctor may prescribe oral corticosteroids such as prednisone to fight inflammation. Prednisone is found to be effective but cannot be used long-term primarily due to potential side-effects.
- There is also an U.S. FDA approved an injectable called dupilumab (Dupixent) a biologic that assists in lowering inflammation. This may be administered to people with moderate-to-severe cases of eczema who do not respond well to other treatment options as well as for those who can’t use topical solutions.
This new medication doesn’t have a long track record of how well it works for people. Apart from common side effects associated with dupilumab use such as: conjunctivitis, cold sores, and eyelid inflammation, another drawback of this drug is that it is expensive.
Another injectable biologic called nemolizumab is under study. It also helps lower inflammation and is required to be injected monthly. Further clinical trials are needed before the FDA can approve its use for people with severe eczema.
Though eczema in itself is not currently curable, each person should have a treatment plan tailor fit for them. It is imperative that once the condition heals, it is just as important to keep attending to it to prevent it from getting irritated and flared up again.
There are medications and therapies available that can reduce or arrest severe symptoms.