What Is Eczema? - Types, Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Instructor: Kiley Griffin
In the following article you will learn about eczema. You will discover the most common forms of eczema as well as symptoms of the condition. You will also learn the most common ways to treat eczema as well as common triggers for eczema.

What's with the Itch?

Sam began using a new type of laundry detergent. After wearing clothes that were washed in the new detergent, he began itching everywhere. He realized that his entire body was itchy, and he had a red rash on the area that clothing had touched his body.

Jane is a young girl who has asthma. Her asthma is usually well controlled, but when the pollen on the trees comes out in the spring and her asthma acts up, she gets a rash on her body. She develops itchy patches on the backs of her knees and face; sometimes they ooze, but other times they are dry and scaly.

It's been a long winter, and Mike has been having itchy, dry skin. One morning he woke up with intense itching and red, coin-like patches all over his body.

Sam, Jane and Mike all have rashes that developed in different ways. But the one thing they all have in common is that they are all itchy. Maybe they all have eczema?

Boy scratching his skin

What is eczema?

Eczema is a skin condition that causes itchy skin. It can also be known as dermatitis, the medical word for a rash on the skin. Eczema is more common in babies and young children, but it can affect people of all ages. It is a chronic skin condition that some individuals will outgrow.

Eczema has periods of flares and remissions. Flares mean that something has irritated the skin, and it is actively itchy and inflamed. Remissions mean the skin is healed and not irritated; these periods can last months or even years. An eczema rash can be dry and red, scaly looking or even oozy and crusty -- but they are always extremely itchy. Eczema is not a contagious skin condition, but some people are genetically more likely to develop it than others.

Types of Eczema

The three main types of eczema are atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis and nummular eczema. There are also several other skin conditions that can be related to eczema which also cause itchy and dry skin.

Atopic dermatitis is the most common and usually the most severe form of eczema. It is also the one most commonly found in children. It is an inflammatory skin condition that causes intense itching of the skin. The most common locations for the itching are the elbows, backs of knees and the face. Atopic dermatitis is more common in children who suffer from asthma and seasonal allergies. In the examples given above, Jane's skin rash developed with her asthma symptoms, meaning she must have atopic dermatitis.

Contact dermatitis is when a specific irritant or allergen comes in contact with the skin. The skin reacts to the irritating substance by becoming red, inflamed and itchy. It is an allergic reaction of the skin. Common things that can cause contact dermatitis are chemicals, fabrics, beauty care products or poison ivy. The irritating substance can be something that you have come in contact with before, and your body has built up an allergy over time, or it could be something that you react to instantly. The skin can be red dry and scaly or blistering like a burn from the reaction. Sounds like the reason Sam developed a rash using new detergent was because his skin was allergic to it.

Nummular eczema has more of a distinct form than the other types mentioned. It is often shaped like a coin, and there can be several patches on the body. Frequently it is the body's reaction to inflammation caused by something such as a bug bite. It can also happen when the skin becomes too dry in the winter. Mike's rash was caused from dry skin in the winter with an itchy, red, coin-like rash.

Causes of Eczema

The exact cause of eczema is unknown, but there are many things that can trigger a skin reaction. Sometimes it is a specific reaction to a certain substance coming in direct contact with the skin, like soaps, harsh wool, and chemicals. A skin reaction can also develop from coming in contact with pets or mold. Many people who have food allergies such as nuts, eggs, and wheat will often develop an eczema rash after ingesting the food they are allergic to.

People who have asthma and allergies are more likely to develop eczema during a flare in their illness. The body is either reacting to the inflammation caused by asthma or allergies or reacting the same irritant that causes the asthma and allergy. It is still not sure exactly how they are all related. What is known is that the body reacts to something it does not like and causes a reaction on the skin that results in an itch.

Symptoms of Eczema

Eczema rashes can look a little different from each other, but they are all itchy. One of these rashes can be very dry and scaly rash, or can cause the skin to bubble and ooze. Eczema can often be identified by red welts on the skin that are inflamed and itchy. Because the skin is so itchy and a reaction is taking place, the skin might become swollen. Eczema is a chronic condition, and rashes will occur throughout an individual's life with flares and remission.

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