Eczema (eg-zuh-MUH) is the name for a group of conditions that cause the skin to become red, itchy and inflamed.
Eczema is very common. In fact, more than 30 million Americans have some form of eczema.
Eczema is not contagious. You can’t “catch it” from someone else. While the exact cause of eczema is unknown, researchers do know that people who develop eczema do so because of a combination of genes and environmental triggers. When an irritant or an allergen from outside or inside the body “switches on” the immune system, it produces inflammation. It is this inflammation that causes the symptoms common to most types of eczema.
There are several different types of eczema that you should know about:
- Atopic dermatitis
- Contact dermatitis
- Dyshidrotic eczema
- Nummular eczema
- Seborrheic dermatitis
- Stasis dermatitis
Though there are several distinct types of eczema, it is possible to have more than one type at a time.
All types of eczema cause itching and redness, but some may also cause your skin to blister, “weep,” or peel.
It’s important to understand which type you or your child may have and also your symptoms and triggers, so that you can best treat and manage your eczema. But the only way to be sure that you or your child has eczema and which type, is to make an appointment with your doctor.Know what type of eczema you have?
Learn about the different types of eczema and what triggers to avoid
- Understand the differences between atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis and other eczemas
- Some types of eczema are very rare. Get connected to others in the NEA community who share your condition
- Learn which treatments for your type of eczema are making headlines
- Discover which triggers to avoid so your eczema doesn’t get worse
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Atopic dermatitis is a type eczema that is chronic and inflammatory. Though the exact cause of atopic is unknown, it happens when the immune system goes into overdrive in response to an allergen or irritant inside or outside the body. AD usually begins in childhood, often in the first six months of the life. When you or your child have AD, it might improve at times or it may get worse (when you may experience what’s called a “flare”).
Atopic dermatitis is part of what’s called the atopic triad, which includes two other allergic conditions (asthma and hay fever, which is also known as allergic rhinitis). Researchers believe that people who come from families with a history of atopic dermatitis, asthma and/or hay fever are more likely to develop atopic dermatitis themselves.
Some common symptoms of atopic dermatitis:
- Dry, scaly skin
- Redness (erythema)
- Cracks behind the ears
- A rash on the cheeks, arms and legs
- Open, crusted or “weepy” sores (usually during flare-ups)
Contact dermatitis happens when the skin touches irritating substances or allergens. These make the skin inflamed, causing it to burn, itch and become red. There are several kinds of contact dermatitis but irritant contact dermatitis and allergic contact dermatitis are the most common. Contact dermatitis usually appears on the hands, or parts of the body that touched the irritant/allergen.
The most common irritants include:
- Industrial chemicals
- Tobacco smoke
- Acidic Foods
- Skin care products that content alcohol (but not cetyl alcohol)
- Some soaps and fragrances
- Allergens (usually animal dander or pollens)
Symptoms of contact dermatitis include:
- Redness and rash
- Burning or swelling
- Blisters that may weep or crust over
Dyshidrotic eczema (dis-HI-drotic eg-zuh-MUH) is a condition that produces small, itchy blisters on the edges of the fingers, toes, palms, and soles of the feet. Stress, allergies (such as hay fever), moist hands and feet, or exposure to nickel (in metal-plated jewelry), cobalt (found in metal-plated objects, and in pigments used in paints and enamels), or chromium salts (used in the manufacturing of cement, mortar, leather, paints, and anticorrosives) may be “triggers” of dyshidrotic eczema. This type of eczema is twice as common in women as it is in men.
Symptoms of dyshidrotic eczema include:
- Small fluid-filled blisters (vesicles) on the fingers, hands, and feet
- Scaly, cracked skin
Nummular eczema – nummular dermatitis
Nummular (numb-mu-LUR) eczema, also known as discoid eczema and nummular dermatitis, is a common type of eczema that can occur at any age. It looks very different than the usual eczema and can be much more difficult to treat. People with nummular eczema develop coin-shaped spots on their skin, which may be very itchy. It is thought to be “triggered” by things like insect bites, reactions to skin inflammation, or dry skin in the winter.
Some symptoms of nummular eczema include:
- Round, coin-shaped spots
- Dry, scaly skin
- Wet, open sores
Considered a chronic form of eczema, seborrheic dermatitis (seb-uh-REE-ick dur-muh-TIE-tis) appears on the body where there are a lot of oil-producing (sebaceous) glands like the upper back, nose and scalp.
Seborrheic dermatitis on the scalp is called dandruff. Picture courtesy of DermNet New Zealand
The exact cause of seborrheic dermatitis is unknown, although genes and hormones play a role. Microorganisms such as yeast, that live on the skin naturally can also contribute to seborrheic dermatitis. Unlike many other forms of eczema, seborrheic dermatitis is not the result of an allergy.
People of any age can develop seborrheic dermatitis including infants (known as “cradle cap”). It is slightly more common in men than women.
People with certain diseases that affect the immune system, such as HIV or AIDS, and the nervous system, such as Parkinson’s disease, are believed to be at an increased risk of developing seborrheic dermatitis.
Seborrheic dermatitis often appears on the scalp, where symptoms may range from dry flakes (dandruff) to yellow, greasy scales with reddened skin. Patients can also develop seborrheic dermatitis on other oily areas of their body, such as the face, upper chest and back.
Common symptoms of seborrheic dermatitis include:
- Greasy, swollen skin
- White or yellowish crusty flakes
Stasis dermatitis is also called gravitational dermatitis, venous eczema and venous stasis dermatitis. It happens when there is a problem with blood flow in the veins and pressure develops (usually in the lower legs). This pressure can cause fluid to leak out of the veins and into the skin, resulting in stasis dermatitis.
Symptoms of stasis dermatitis include:
- Swelling around the ankles
And in more severe cases:
- Open areas (cracking or larger ulcers)