Eczema, also called dermatitis, is not a single condition. There are several types. However, the collective term refers to a noncontagious and superficial inflammation of the skin. In the early stages, the affected skin is red and itching. Blisters or lesions develop. They become crusty, scaly and ooze a serous fluid.
Atopic eczema, the most common type of eczema, is a chronic skin condition caused by a hypersensitivity reaction. It is common in infants, tends to run in families and resolves in many children by the age of two. (1) About 50 percent of affected individuals continue to have symptoms into adulthood. Individuals with this type of eczema tend to have asthma and hay fever. (2)
In infants, skin lesions develop on the scalp, face, hands and feet. These blisters may ooze and become crusty. In older children and adults, the itchy patches form on the bends of the elbows, backs of knees, ankles, wrists, face, neck, and upper chest. A rash often appears where the skin has been scratched. Untreated, the affected skin will thicken. (2)
Allergies to pollen, mold, dust mites or animals, exposure to environmental irritants, the common cold or influenza, dry skin and exposure to dyes or fragrances are some factors that trigger atopic eczema.
Avoiding allergens and irritants, moisturizing the skin with hypoallergenic products, using a humidifier in the home and applying cool compresses may relieve symptoms. Antihistamines with a non-drowsy formula can help relieve itching without causing sleepiness. Most cases are treated with prescribed topical steroid cream. (1) Oral or injectable steroids may be used to treat severe cases. Immunotherapy and oral immunosuppressant medications are additional treatment options.
Dyshidrotic eczema occurs twice as often in women than men and tends to appear during certain times of the year, particularly in humid weather. (2) Typically, adults develop this skin condition between the ages of 20 and 40 years old. Dyshidrotic eczema develops rarely in children but children with atopic eczema are at a higher risk.