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Eczema

Eczema is a broad term for a number of skin conditions that shows up as dry, irritated and very itchy skin. Another word for eczema is dermatitis.  There are many different types of eczema or dermatitis.  Some of the most common types of eczema include: atopic dermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis, irritant dermatitis and nummular dermatitis.

Eczema Symptoms

Patients with eczema experience dry, itchy skin.  Eczema can occur on any part of the body. With a specific type of eczema known as atopic dermatitis, it most commonly affects the inner elbows and the backs of the knees. Irritant dermatitis, another type of eczema, is often seen on the hands.  Eczema can be found in any area of the body, even the eyelids, scalp and groin can have eczema.

Eczema is often very itchy and patient will describe dry, red, cracked or flaking skin.  Some say that their skin even burns.

The Causes of Eczema

Most commonly, eczema is hereditary in nature. Many people believe that certain genes may cause people to have extra sensitive skin that can lead to eczema.

Some types of eczema are more common in people who have seasonal allergies and/or asthma. This type of eczema, known as atopic dermatitis, most often begins in childhood but can develop in adults too. Other types of eczema occur when the skin is overly sensitive to things that touch the skin such as cosmetics, preservatives and fragrance. Skin contact with substances that may cause irritation like wool, soaps, and synthetic fibers can also cause eczema. Allergy testing, known as patch testing, can be done to see if a patient has a sensitivity to something that is touching the skin.

Many types of eczema show up for reasons that we don’t understand. Eczema can worsen during certain seasons, most often in the winter.

Moreover, other factors such as stress, heat, sweat, food allergies and dry skin can also trigger eczema.  Some kinds of food – for instance, nuts and dairy products – may trigger symptoms. Women may be affected with eczema during pregnancy or menstruation, as their hormonal levels change at this time.

It should be noted that eczema is not contagious. It does not spread by contact with affected people.

Eczema Treatment Options

Those with eczema should use gentle soaps and plenty of moisturizers. Dermatologists can prescribe different creams and pills that can soothe and repair the skin.  The most commonly prescribed types of creams for eczema are steroid creams.  Steroid creams can be very effective but they should not always be used on certain body parts and sometimes their use should be limited in duration.  You should follow the instructions given to you for use of your steroid cream.  Other types of creams prescribed for eczema include: tacrolimus (Protopic ®), pimecrolimus (Elidel®) and crisaborole (Eucrisa®).  For more severe cases of eczema certain pills can be given to improve the skin.  For patients with the type of eczema known as atopic dermatitis, a shot called dupilumab (Dupixent®) can be effective to help the skin.

Therapies and lifestyle changes also go a long way in calming the symptoms of eczema. Because stress is also a cause, relaxing activities like yoga, breathing exercises, meditating and listening to music can be helpful. A warm bath and a good sleep can be quite effective, and some patients turn to alternative treatments such as acupuncture.

Learn more at the American Academy of Dermatology: AAD Eczema

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