Eczema is a condition that causes patches of skin to become red, scaly, and itchy. There are many different stages and types of the disease, and over 30 million Americans have some form of the condition. Eczema commonly appears in infancy or early childhood, but babies and children who have it may grow out of it. Still, about 10-20% of cases globally persist into adulthood. Although there is no cure for eczema, there are many ways to treat it. And, it is not contagious, so you can’t catch it from another person.
Are There Different Types of Eczema?
There are actually seven types of eczema; the most common form is also known as atopic dermatitis, or AD. “Atopic” refers to diseases involving the immune system. More generally, being atopic means you have an inherited tendency to have allergic reactions to certain foods or inhaled substances; on the skin, these reactions take the form of eczema, but they can also manifest as asthma and hay fever. It is estimated that 15-30% of children and 2-10% of adults globally have this form of eczema.
We don’t know the specific cause of eczema, but it is commonly connected to a family history of allergies. Children are more likely to develop eczema if one parent has the condition; if both parents have eczema or a related skin disease, the chances are even greater. Environmental factors such as smoke and pollen may also play a role, as can foods such as nuts and dairy products. Whatever the trigger, the mechanics of the disease are the same: a substance activates the immune system, which over-reacts and produces an inflammatory response in the form of a rash.
What are the First Signs of Eczema?
Eczema is connected to impaired skin barrier function, which means that the skin cannot effectively retain moisture. Early signs to look for are dry, sensitive skin; red, inflamed skin; bad itching; and dark colored patches of skin. Moreover, symptoms of eczema vary by age. In infants under two years old, it commonly appears as a red, itchy rash on the cheeks, chin, chest, or scalp. In older children, rashes typically develop in the creases of elbows and the backs of knees, as well as on the neck, ankles, and wrists. In adults, rashes appear in these same places but can also cover much of the body; they may particularly affect the neck, face, and area around the eyes.
What is the Difference between Eczema and Dermatitis?
Eczema is just one type of dermatitis, which is a general term for skin conditions characterized by dry, itchy, scaly patches and inflammation. As noted above, eczema is the form of dermatitis known as atopic dermatitis. Other forms of dermatitis include contact dermatitis, which may look like atopic dermatitis. While it is possible to have atopic dermatitis and another type of eczema at the same time, remember that eczema runs in families and is associated with allergies, hay fever, asthma, and stress.
Simply put, eczema itches because the nerve endings in the top layer of your skin are stimulated by factors such as the dry skin itself, a flare of the eczema, or substances in your skin called “chemical mediators,” which serve to deliver messages to the nerve endings. The itching leads to scratching, which in turn leads to a worsening of the eczema and an endless cycle of itching and scratching.
How Can I Stop Eczema from Itching at Night?
Itching is an unpleasant physical sensation at any time, but at night it also significantly contributes to poor sleep. Along with some of the different treatments discussed below, using a cold compress or a wet wrap therapy can provide some immediate relief. Check out the National Eczema Association for other ways to manage itch.
What is the Best Eczema Treatment?
Because eczema alternates between relapse and flares, it can be difficult to treat. However, both over-the-counter (nonpharmacological) and pharmacological treatments are available.
Nonpharmacologic Treatment for Eczema
The foundation of treatment for eczema focuses on preventing transepidermal water loss (TEWL), which means stopping moisture from evaporating through your skin1. This requires daily skin care, including the following measures:
Does Eczema Ever Go Away?
Eczema does not generally go away. While some children outgrow it, about 50% of Americans who develop the condition in childhood will continue to have symptoms as an adult. However, eczema is an unpredictable disease; in between flareups, you may have periods of improvement. And even though there is no cure for eczema, the many different treatments available can help you to manage it.
What Type of Eczema Do I Have?
While all types of eczema cause redness and itching, each type of the condition has different triggers and symptoms. The National Association of Eczema can help you learn more about the causes and give you tools to manage your eczema.
The first step in managing eczema is knowing what type you have. If you have not been diagnosed yet, or you need more support, consider visiting our board-certified dermatologist, Dr. Dathan Hamann. He and the dedicated staff at Saguaro Dermatology can help you learn more about your eczema, identify your triggers, and manage your condition. We’re here to help!
What is an Allergy Patch Test?
Saguaro Dermatology, located in central Phoenix (just south of the Biltmore/Arcadia area and north of Tempe) offers patch testing for persistent eczema. There are many types of allergies, but many people aren’t aware of the allergic form of eczema called “allergic contact dermatitis” (ACD).