What is Eczema?
Chances are, you’re here to look for answers about eczema (eg-zuh-MUH) and find support.
You might have first noticed an itchy, red patch on your baby’s cheeks, chin, or chest that she or he scratched until it became even more irritated. Sound familiar? Or maybe you experienced something similar on your own neck, inner elbows, or behind your knees.
Eczema can appear anywhere on the body
That’s probably when you made an appointment with your doctor, who looked at it, talked to you about your symptoms, asked you questions about your family history and the types of products you use on your skin and in your home. Then your doctor told you it was eczema.
So what exactly is eczema? Who can get it and why? And what should you do, now that you or your child has been diagnosed?
Learning more about what kind of eczema you have and what may have triggered it, is the best starting point to treating and managing it, so that your eczema doesn’t get in the way of your everyday life.
The good news is you’ve come to the right place. We’re here to help guide you — with all of the tools and support you’ll need — every step of the way.
You're not alone
Over 30 million Americans have eczema
- Understand the differences between eczema and atopic dermatitis
- Learn about the most common eczema causes and triggers – like allergens and stress
- Get tips on how to control your eczema with daily bathing and moisturizing
- Learn more about what makes one moisturizer more effective than another
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And you'll also get the NEA "Eczema Basics" booklets for adults and children
Types of eczema
Eczema is the name for a group of conditions that cause the skin to become red, itchy and inflamed. There are several types of eczema: atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, nummular eczema, seborrheic dermatitis and stasis dermatitis.
Eczema is very common. And in many cases, it’s also manageable. In fact, over 30 million Americans have some form of eczema.
Eczema flares often show up on the backs of the knees
Living with eczema can be an ongoing challenge. The word “eczema” is derived from a Greek word meaning “to boil over,” which is a good description for the red, inflamed, itchy patches that occur during flare-ups. Eczema can range from mild, moderate, to severe.
It’s most common for babies and children to develop eczema on their face (especially the cheeks and chin), but it can appear anywhere on the body and symptoms may be different from one child to the next. More often than not, eczema goes away as a child grows older, though some children will continue to experience eczema into adulthood.
Adults can develop eczema, too, even if they never had it as a child.
Is eczema contagious?
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 “switches on” the immune system, skin cells don’t behave as they should causing an eczema flare-up.
What are the treatments for eczema?
There is no cure for eczema but there are treatments. Depending on age and eczema severity, these treatments include over-the-counter (OTC) remedies, prescription topical medications, phototherapy, immunosuppressants, and biologic drugs. Many people with eczema also find success with specific natural and alternative treatments.
For most types of eczema, managing flares comes down to these basics:
- Know your triggers so that you can avoid exposure
- Implement a daily bathing and moisturizing routine
- Use OTC and prescription medication consistently and as prescribed
What are the symptoms of eczema?
The most important thing to remember is that eczema and its symptoms are different for everyone. Your eczema may not look the same on you as it does on another adult, or on your child. It may even appear in different areas of the body at different times.
Eczema is usually itchy
Eczema is usually itchy. For many people, the itch is usually only mild, or moderate. But in some cases it can become much worse and you might develop extremely inflamed skin. Sometimes the itch gets so bad that people scratch it until it bleeds, which can make your eczema worse. This is called the “itch-scratch cycle.”
What to look for:
- Dry, sensitive skin
- Red, inflamed skin
- Very bad itching
- Dark colored patches of skin
- Rough, leathery or scaly patches of skin
- Oozing or crusting
- Areas of swelling
You might have all of these symptoms of eczema or only just a few. You might have some flare ups or your symptoms could go away entirely. But the only way to know if you have eczema for sure, is to visit your doctor so he or she can look at your skin and ask you about your symptoms.
Atopic dermatitis on the ankles and feet of an adult male
What is the difference between eczema and atopic dermatitis?
Eczema is a general term for dermatitis, which simply means inflammation of the skin. All types of eczema cause itching and redness and some will blister, weep or peel.
There are several types of eczema. Atopic dermatitis considered a severe and chronic (long-lasting) form.
The term “eczema” is often used interchangeably with “atopic dermatitis.” However, each type of eczema, including atopic dermatitis, has somewhat different triggers, symptoms and treatments. That’s why it’s important to know which type or types (since a person can have more than one type at the same time) you have, so that you are best able to manage it.