Reviewed by: Dr. David Myers, Utah Valley Dermatology
Relying on a diagnosis from a friend who claims to know what eczema is may not be the best course of action for your skin health.
Your friend could be right, but probably doesn’t understand what eczema really means, and what the best courses for treatment are. Eczema is actually a term for many kinds of skin problems, according to The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease (NIAMS).
Another term for eczema is Atopic Dermatitis, which is characterized by dry, itchy skin and rashes on the face, inside the elbows and knees, or on the hands and feet. This type of eczema is most common on babies and children, but can occur on anyone. It is caused by barrier defects in the outer layer of skin. People who live in dry climates, such as Utah, may be more likely to develop Atopic Dermatitis.
Other types of inflamed skin may occur from allergic contact dermatitis, such as poison ivy, causing red, itchy, and weepy skin; scaly patches from localized itches; and irritated lower legs. Another, called Stasis Dermatitis, occurs most often in the elderly and is often caused by a lack of blood flow. Depending on the location and size of the irritations, the specific type of eczema changes.
Eczema affects 10 to 20 percent of infants and about three percent of children and adults in the United States.
The exact cause is unknown, though scientists think eczema may be linked to an overactive response by the immune system to allergens. The problem is often found in families with a history of other allergies or asthma. For this reason, people with eczema can also have other symptoms such as congestion, runny nose, or itchy eyes. Avoiding allergens, along with carefully chosen lotions and creams, are common skin care recommendations for eczema by dermatologists. These can be combined with topical cortisones that can decrease inflammation, redness, and itching.
Certain irritants can make eczema worse. Avoiding wool or man-made fibers, some soaps, cleaners, perfumes, and certain chemicals, like chlorine, can be important to prevent flare-ups of eczema. Healthy skin contains substances called ceramides and lipids that help retain moisture. People with Atopic Dermatitis are missing these substances or have lower levels of them, resulting in dry skin and irritation from outside sources.
There are prescription creams that can help heal the depleted barrier of skin. These drugs should not be used on younger children. A dermatologist may also recommend antihistamines for the itching or wet wraps to ease discomfort.