eczema and dermatitis: causes and treatment

Contents

What Is Eczema?

What Are The Symptoms Of Eczema?

What Is The Difference Between Eczema And Dermatitis?

The Different Types Of Eczema And Dermatitis

What Causes Eczema?

Other Effects Of Eczema

How Is Eczema Diagnosed?

Treating And Preventing Eczema

What Is Eczema?

Eczema is a chronic, non-infectious, inflammatory skin condition characterized by an itchy rash. It affects around 15% of children but most grow out of it and only 2-4% of adults have it. When they do however, adults tend to experience the more severe kind.

People who have eczema tend to experience phases of more and less severe symptoms. Acute flare-ups can have a marked negative impact on quality of life. Extreme itching can make concentrating and sleeping very difficult, while visible rashes can lead to embarrassment. However, if you take good care of your skin and avoid triggers, it is usually possible to live a fairly normal life.

For those interested in seeing images of eczema, check out this link by WebMD: A Visual Guide To Eczema. But bear in mind that the images are graphic and may require a strong stomach.

What Are The Symptoms Of Eczema?

Eczema tends to come and go in bouts. During a flare-up skin can become red and itchy - where itching is the main symptom and can often be unbearable - and sometimes develop blisters that break and weep. Over time skin may thicken and become dry, cracked and rough.

What Is The Difference Between Eczema And Dermatitis?

Dermatitis and eczema are both terms for inflammation of the skin characterized by red, dry patches and rashes. The terms are often used interchangeably and there is an overlap. Some specific conditions however, are known better by just one of the two names. Eczema and atopic dermatitis, for instance, are used interchangeably, but doctors generally don't substitute contact dermatitis for eczema and vice versa.

Several different types of eczema and dermatitis exist, and it is possible to have more than one type at the same time. Some forms also cause blistering and peeling and most forms are chronic. Contact dermatitis is an exception that is caused by an allergic reaction to an irritant and can be prevented avoiding the irritant.

The Different Types Of Eczema And Dermatitis

Atopic Dermatitis Or Eczema

This tends to be chronic and is characterized by an itchy, red rash. It usually appears around the joints and the neck. It tends to occur in bouts and symptoms include dry skin, flaky or scaly patches, itching, and less commonly, weeping sores.

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction to an irritant. Symptoms include a red rash that may itch, burn or sting. You may also develop liquid-filled blisters.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

This commonly affects areas with high sebaceous gland density such as the scalp, and is also known as dandruff. It has a scaly, dry appearance and may be caused by a reaction to the malassezia fungus that lives on your skin. Other symptoms include redness and rashes. It is also known as seborrhoea, cradle cap, sebopsoriasis, and pityriasis capitis.

Perioral Dermatitis

This is a rash in which bumps develop around the mouth. It is worth mentioning here as it has become more common with the rising use of face masks. If there's no infection, the simplest course of treatment involves being gentle with your skin to avoid further irritation and to allow the skin barrier to rebuild. You can do this by using a gentle cleanser, such as our Hydrating Gentle Daily Cleanser, and a moisturiser designed for irritated and sensitive skin, such as our Million Dollar Moisturiser.

Other Types Of Eczema And Dermatitis

  • dyshidrotic eczema

  • nummular eczema

  • follicular eczema

  • stasis dermatitis (varicose eczema, gravitational eczema)

  • hand eczema

  • dermatitis herpetiformis

  • pompholyx eczema

  • neurodermatitis

  • discoid eczema

  • asteatotic eczema (eczema cracquelée)

What Causes Eczema?

Our skin has layers of which the outermost is called the epidermis. The epidermis is further subdivided and its outermost layer is called the stratum corneum. This is the visible part of the skin that protects the body from the outside world. The epidermis renews itself constantly as new cells from the lowest layer make their way up to the surface and dead cells are shed off.

In people with eczema, the stratum corneum is damaged by an immune response and is unable to provide sufficient protection from external stressors such as irritants, allergens and germs. Eczema is also possibly caused by a mutation in the gene responsible for filaggrin production, where filaggrin is an essential protein that decomposes to form the skin’s natural moisturising factor (NMF). This results in a poorly formed stratum corneum that is more prone to water loss and more permeable to irritants that can illicit an immune response.

30-40% of people who have eczema have an allergic type and also tend to have other more severe skin problems, hay fever and allergic asthma. Their immune system has a tendency to overreact to allergens such as dust mites and pollen, and certain foods such as milk, eggs, nuts and fish. Blood tests that can detect antibodies in the blood are able to diagnose these allergies.

While genes play a major role in the development of eczema, some external factors are thought to be at play as well. These include pollution and increased hygiene - based on the observation that children with several siblings, or a dog, have a lower probability of developing eczema. This is possibly because they are exposed to germs at an earlier age resulting in a better trained immune system.

The skin can also be irritated by non-allergenic environmental factors such as rough fabrics, cigarette smoke and extremes in temperature.

Other Effects Of Eczema