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An Overview of the Different Types of Eczema

Eczema is the name for a group of conditions that cause the skin to become itchy, inflamed and red in lighter skin tones or brown, purple, gray or ashen in darker skin tones. Eczema is very common. In fact, more than 31 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 seven different types of eczema:

  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Neurodermatitis
  • Dyshidrotic eczema
  • Nummular eczema
  • Seborrheic dermatitis
  • Stasis dermatitis

Sometimes people can have more than one type of eczema on their body at the same time. Each form of eczema has its own set of triggers and treatment requirements. That’s why it’s so important to consult with health care providers who specialize in treating eczema. Dermatologists in particular can help identify which type or types of eczema you may have and how to treat and prevent flare-ups.

Atopic dermatitis

atopic dermatitis on the backs of the knees

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 worsen (when you may experience what’s called a “flare” or “flare-up.”)

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) in lighter skin tones that may have a purplish or darker hue in darker skin tones
  • Itching
  • Cracks behind the ears
  • A rash on the cheeks, arms and legs
  • Open, crusted or “weepy” sores (usually during flare-ups)

Learn more about AD symptoms, triggers and types of treatment or read about it on our blog.

Contact dermatitis

Wrist with contact dermatitis caused by metal

Contact dermatitis happens when the skin touches irritating substances or allergens. These make the skin inflamed, causing it to burn, itch and become red in lighter skin tones or purple, gray or ashen in darker skin tones. 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 came in contact with the irritant/allergen.

The  most common irritants include:

  • Solvents
  • Industrial chemicals
  • Detergents
  • Fumes
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Paints
  • Bleach
  • Wool
  • Acidic Foods
  • Astringents
  • Skincare 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

Learn more about contact dermatitis symptoms, triggers and types of treatment.

Neurodermatitis

Intense itching — and the scratching it causes — lead to the symptoms of neurodermatitis, a common type of eczema that affects about 12% of the population. It rarely goes away without treatment, and continued scratching can irritate nerve endings in skin, intensifying both itching and scratching.

Over time, chronic scratching causes itchy patches of skin to become dry, leathery and thickened. This is called lichenification. Neurodermatitis is also known as lichen simplex chronicus. Thick, leathery patches of neurodermatitis can develop pronounced skin lines, scales and discoloration that’s often red, brown, purple or gray.

Neurodermatitis can occur anywhere you can reach to scratch, but it is most common on the feet, ankles, hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck and scalp. The eyelids can also be affected, as can genital and anal areas.

Some symptoms of neurodermatitis include:

  • Itchy skin patch or patches
  • Leathery or scaly skin on the affected areas
  • A raised patch or patches that are red or darker than the rest of your skin

Read more about neurodermatitis symptoms, triggers and types of treatment.

Dyshidrotic eczema

Dyshidrotic eczema on the feet

Dyshidrotic eczema 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
  • Itching
  • Flaking
  • Scaly, cracked skin
  • Pain

Read more about dyshidrotic eczema symptoms, triggers and types of treatment.

Nummular eczema

Nummular eczema on the leg

Nummular eczema, also known as discoid eczema or 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
  • Itching
  • Redness in lighter skin tones or a brown, purple, gray or ashen appearance in darker skin tones
  • Dry, scaly skin
  • Wet, open sores

Read more about nummular eczema symptoms, triggers and types of treatment.

Seborrheic dermatitis

Considered a chronic form of eczema, seborrheic dermatitis 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 known as dandruff

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 or darker 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:

  • Redness in lighter skin tones or brown, purple, gray or ashen in darker skin tones
  • Greasy, swollen skin
  • White or yellowish crusty flakes

Read more about seborrheic dermatitis.

Stasis dermatitis

Stasis dermatitis picture

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
  • Red to violet-colored open sores
  • Scaling
  • Itching
  • Pain

And in more severe cases:

  • Oozing
  • Open areas (cracking or larger ulcers)
  • Infection

Read more about stasis dermatitis symptoms, triggers and types of treatment.