What is eczema?
Eczema is a common, non-contagious, dry skin condition which can lead to dry, scaly skin with some redness and itching. In more severe cases, the skin can crack, bleed, or crust. Eczema refers to a group of conditions with inflamed skin, and there are actually multiple different types of eczema.
Atopic dermatitis, the most common form of eczema, is a chronic skin condition characterized by itchy patches that usually begin in childhood and affect the inner arms and backs of the knees.
Irritant or allergic contact dermatitis is a reaction to a topical product applied to the skin. Nummular eczema is coin-shaped scaly patches occurring usually on the lower extremities. The itching and soreness from severe eczema can significantly impact one’s quality of life, often leading to sleepless nights, moodiness, and low self-esteem, leaving sufferers in desperate need of eczema relief. The good news? There are many ways to soothe and treat eczema effectively.
What are some signs and symptoms of eczema?
The main symptom of eczema is a rash that typically appears on the arms and behind the knees, but can also appear anywhere. If you’re living with eczema, you may also experience the following:
- Dry, sensitive skin
- Red, inflamed skin
- Dark colored patches
- Itchy rash
- Rough, scaly and thickened skin
- Oozing eczema patches
- Scabs form on the patches
How is eczema diagnosed?
To diagnose eczema, no lab test is required. In most cases, your doctor will simply examine your skin and review your medical history to make a diagnosis. They may also use something called patch testing, which will rule out other skin diseases and identify other conditions that accompany your eczema.
What are common triggers of eczema?
Triggers can make your eczema and associated symptoms worse. Identifying your triggers, and working to keep your symptoms under control are important parts of staying healthy and living comfortably with eczema. Remember that everyone’s triggers are different when you are trying to determine what causes your symptoms to flare up. Common triggers include:
- Fragrances, soaps, laundry detergents
- Home cleaning products
- Irritating clothing like wool and synthetic fabrics
- Dust, dust mites, and pollens, which are naturally present in the air
- Tobacco and pollution
- Changes in temperature
- Heat & sweat
- Very dry air
- Emotional stress
- Food allergies
- Changes in hormone levels
How can I soothe and treat eczema?
- Focus on barrier repair. Use daily moisturizers that contain ceramides which can help restore the barrier, humectants such as hyaluronic acid which can help attract water, and hydrating ingredients such as dimethicone, glycerin and shea butter. The National Eczema Association website can help you determine which moisturizers and cleansers are appropriate to use. For more severe cases, a dermatologist may prescribe a steroid cream.
- Avoid fragrances and harsh additives. In people with eczema, fragrances are one of the most frequently cited substances causing reactions. Instead, use mild cleansers without fragrance or harsh additives, and avoid bubble baths.
- Treat itchiness. It is important to prevent and treat itching in order to avoid disrupting the skin barrier further and to prevent infections from occurring. Treating symptoms of itchiness involves working on barrier repair by using soothing ingredients. Look for ingredients like niacinamide, peptides, and hyaluronic acid. Often, when a patient improves the barrier function of their skin, the itching resolves. For more severe cases a dermatologist can also write a prescription.
- Use good moisturizers and gentle cleansers. Find a product or a combination of products that work well with your skin. You may want to moisturize twice daily, once in the morning and once at night.
- Avoid triggers. Whenever trying a new product, apply it to your inner arm or neck for a few days and see if there is any reaction before applying it all over your face or body. Because most eczema patients also have concurrent allergic or irritant contact dermatitis, this testing can prevent further itching and eczema. Dress in loose cotton clothing and avoid wool and other irritating fabrics. Try not to let your child with eczema sleep in your bed at night to prevent sweating. Hopefully after reading this you can answer the question, what is eczema?
- Atopic dermatitis (eczema) – Symptoms and causes. (2020, June 12). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/atopic-dermatitis-eczema/symptoms-causes/syc-20353273.
- Eczema types: Atopic dermatitis overview. (n.d.). American Academy of Dermatology Association. https://www.aad.org/public/diseases/eczema/types/atopic-dermatitis
- NHS website. (2021b, November 18). Atopic eczema. NHS. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/atopic-eczema/
- Irritant & Allergic Contact Dermatitis: Symptoms, Diagnosis & Causes. (2019, October 10). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/6173-contact-dermatitis
- Nummular Eczema. (n.d.). American Osteopathic College of Dermatology. https://www.aocd.org/page/NummularEczema#
- Blome, C., Radtke, M. A., Eissing, L., & Augustin, M. (2016). Quality of Life in Patients with Atopic Dermatitis: Disease Burden, Measurement, and Treatment Benefit. American journal of clinical dermatology, 17(2), 163–169. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40257-015-0171-3
- Slide show: Common skin rashes. (2021, December 16). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/skin-rash/sls-20077087
- Allergy skin tests – Mayo Clinic. (2022, January 6). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/allergy-tests/about/pac-20392895
- National Eczema Association. (2022, January 14). Eczema Causes & Triggers. https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/causes-and-triggers-of-eczema/
- National Eczema Association. (2021, September 30). Fragrance and Perfume Allergy and Eczema FAQ. https://nationaleczema.org/fragrances-perfumes-eczema-allergy/
- Nelson, S. (2021, November 18). Skin Barrier Basics for People With Eczema. National Eczema Association. https://nationaleczema.org/what-is-my-skin-barrier/
- Yosipovitch, G., Misery, L., Proksch, E., Metz, M., Ständer, S., & Schmelz, M. (2019). Skin Barrier Damage and Itch: Review of Mechanisms, Topical Management and Future Directions. Acta dermato-venereologica, 99(13), 1201–1209. https://doi.org/10.2340/00015555-3296