Eczema (Dermatitis)

Eczema and dermatitis are similar terms used to describe an itchy rash with inflamed skin.

Eczema DermatitisSymptoms can range in severity from mild itching and redness to severe blistering and cracked skin.

There are many types of dermatoses that may be categorized by the following:

  • the location of the rash. For instance, dermatitis on the hands that may be referred to as such as "hand eczema"
  • the appearance of the rash. For instance the term "discoid eczema" describes a type fo eczema with coin-shaped lesions.
  • the underlying cause of the rash. For instance, allergic contact dermatitis is due to the skin coming into contact with something that triggers an allergic response.

Types of Eczema

Some of the most common forms of dermatitis (eczema) include the following:

  • Atopic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema. It describes the dry, sensitive skin associated with allergies and asthma that tends to be inherited. It is common in infants and toddlers who may “grow out of it” by school age. Moderate to severe cases require ongoing treatment and appropriate skin care to prevent flares.
  • Asteatotic dermatitis This form of dermatitis is caused by dry skin, particularly on the lower legs of elderly people. This is due to a reduction in sebum, the natural oil in skin that normally protects and moisturizes the skin.
  • Contact dermatitisContact dermatitis is a localized skin reaction to an allergen or irritant, causing redness, inflammation, and intense itching.
  • Dyshidrotic dermatitis. Dyshidrotic eczema, also called pompholyx or vesicular hand/foot dermatitis,  causes small, intensely itchy blisters to form on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet.
  • Nummular dermatitis. Nummular eczema is identifiable by coin-shaped patches of irritated skin, occurring sometimes after a skin injury or insect bite.
  • Seborrheic dermatitis. Seborrheic dermatitis is sometimes called “cradle cap” in newborns. This rash often appears on the scalp, behind the ears, or on the face and is identifiable by waxy, yellowish, scaly patches of skin.
  • Stasis dermatitis shows up as red, irritated skin on the lower legs and is often associated with circulation problems.

Dermatitis can be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). Acute dermatitis usually appears as a red rash, which may be blistered or swollen. When the dermatitis becomes chronic, the skin may become thickened, rough, and darker than the surrounding skin due to prolonged scratching.

Eczema Treatment

The recommended treatment for eczema will depend on several variables, including the type of eczema, it's cause and severity.

Finding the underlying cause of dermatitis is one of the primary steps of treatment.

The dry irritated skin can be treated with one or more of the following medications:

  • Topical corticosteroids
  • Topical immunomodulators (Elidel®, Protopic®)
  • Antibiotics, if an additional skin infection is suspected
  • Oral antihistamines (Benadryl®), which help reduce the itching and help prevent scratching at night.

Tips for avoiding flare-ups include:

  • Using lukewarm water (not hot) and avoiding soap when bathing. If soap is necessary, apply a mild, moisturizing soap. Hot water and soaps tend to dry the skin.
  • Apply a moisturizer at least once a day. Apply the moisturizer within 3 minutes after bathing
  • Wear smooth, cool clothes. Avoid wool.

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© 2010 Vivacare. Last updated May 11, 2011.

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