Eczema Basics

Other Skin Conditions, Skin Center
on January 26, 2012

Red, itchy skin that feels scaly and rough is how we generally think of eczema. Eczema is a very common skin condition that often presents before a person even celebrates his or her first birthday. It is a chronic disease and is not contagious.

Types of eczemas. The National Eczema Association and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) list several types of eczemas, including atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, neurodermatitis, nummular eczema, seborrheic dermatitis and stasis dermatitis. Each shares similar symptoms.

Defining eczema or atopic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema, and the terms often are used interchangeably. Atopic, as defined by NIAMS, “refers to a group of diseases in which there is often an inherited tendency to develop other allergic conditions, such as asthma and hay fever.” Dermatitis is simply a skin inflammation. Atopic dermatitis generally begins in childhood, before the age of 5.

Symptoms of eczema. Eczema may present as red, raw patches of skin. The color may vary from bright red to almost brownish. Small fluid-filled bumps may develop as well. These bumps may ooze and then scab over after having been scratched. Eczema is itchy, sometimes extremely itchy, making it difficult to concentrate during the day or sleep at night. The skin affect by the eczema may appear thickened or cracked. Sometimes it is described as scaly.

Eczema and children. When a child is affected with atopic dermatitis eczema, red itchy patches will appear on the cheeks, forehead and scalp. The first outbreak of eczema typically happens in the baby’s first year. The red patches can bubble, ooze and leak fluid. When the baby rubs his skin against blankets or bedding, he can rub it raw, making the skin more susceptible to infections. After 2 years of age, eczema may appear on a child’s extremities, in particular the backs of the knees, neck, wrists and ankles.

Eczema and adults. Eczema is typically a skin disease that follows you into adulthood. Very rarely will it appear in adults who have never had the skin condition in childhood. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, eczema in adults can cover most of the body, appearing particularly in the creases of knees and elbows and at the nape of the neck. The scaly, dry and red skin is very noticeable on the face and can be bad around the eyes. The itch can be persistent, and continual scratching of the skin may lead to skin infections.

Treatments. Mild eczema may be treated with over-the-counter anti-itch creams. Severe eczema cases may need medications prescribed by a doctor. According to the Mayo Clinic, your doctor may prescribe one or more of the following treatments: a corticosteroid cream, antibiotic, oral antihistamine, oral or injected corticosteroids or immunomodulators. Immunomodulators are only approved for people ages 2 and older.