Eczema, also referred to as dermatitis, is a non-contagious condition in which the skin becomes red, itchy, and sometimes swollen. There is no known cause for eczema, and researchers continue to study this mysterious and baffling condition. Those who suffer from eczema report extreme discomfort due to itchy, dry skin. Sometimes eczema may be painful, but for the majority of sufferers, the itchiness is the chief complaint.
Eczema is a dermatological condition that affects the top layer of the skin. It may also affect the scalp. Eczema often presents symptoms such as swelling, itching, redness and skin lesions. There are several types of eczema, and it is important that anyone who suspects they have the condition sees a dermatologist or other health care provider. Research has shown that there is a connection between allergies and eczema, and for many, the condition is chronic and lasts for a long time. See a health care professional if eczema becomes severe and causes pain or interrupts your daily routine.
- Atopic Eczema: PubMed Health provides an extensive look at what eczema is.
- Eczema Herpeticum and Clinical Criteria for Investigating Smallpox: Centers for Disease Control looks at eczema herpeticum.
- Eczema: University of Maryland Medical Center describes the signs and symptoms of eczema.
- Eczema: What is eczema? (PDF): Columbia University Medical Center examines eczema.
- Eczema Resources: University of Iowa provides links to more information about eczema.
Types of Eczema
There are several types of eczema. These include atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, neurodermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, stagis dermatitis and perioral dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema. It consists of a red rash that tends to come and go. Contact dermatitis is a rash that occurs due to contact with an irritating substance. Neurodermatitis is characterized by chronic itchiness. Seborrheic dermatitis occurs on the scalp and causes dandruff. Stagis dermatitis is attributed to fluid that has accumulated under the skin on the legs, and Perioral dermatitis is a rash that affects the mouth area.
- Online Dermatology Image Library: Eczema: DermAtlas profiles different types of eczema.
- Common Skin Problems: Dermatology at Yale discusses eczema and other skin conditions. (PDF)
There is no known cause for eczema. Research has shown a link between those who have allergies and those who suffer from eczema. It is believed that eczema may be the result of a faulty immune system. Experts theorize that the body overreacts to an irritant, therefore developing the rash. Eczema appears to run in families and is hereditary; however, it is not contagious.
- Possible Causes of Eczema: Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine looks at eczema and possible causes.
- Eczema: Patient education series (PDF): Possible causes, symptoms, and treatments for eczema.
There are many treatments prescribed for eczema. Some of the most popular methods include corticosteroids, topical immunosuppressants, oral and parenteral immunosuppressants, anti-itch drugs and antihistamine. The main goal of treatment is to reduce inflammation, swelling, and itchiness, and to reduce the body’s immune system response to the trigger. Antihistamines and anti-itching drugs may be administered orally and topically can potentially help you get rid of it as well.
- Whiter Laundry and a Surprising New Treatment for Kids’ Eczema: Northwestern University offers tips for eczema flare-ups.
- Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema): University of Chicago Medical Center looks at several treatments for the skin condition.
As some medications are known for side effects, many people feel more comfortable treating eczema with natural remedies. Eczema tends to be chronic, so using medication increases the likelihood that prescription medications would be used for a long time. Natural remedies include hemp oil, sea water, sulfur and probiotics. It is believed that the skin should remain moist and cool, and these remedies often provide the moisturizing nutrients that skin needs to remain in best shape. Natural remedies are also a popular choice for children with eczema.
- Calm the Vicious Cycle of Eczema with a Few Natural Treatments: Bastyr University looks at natural remedies for eczema.
Phototherapy, or light therapy, is the use of ultraviolet light to help heal eczema. Studies have shown that sunlight is beneficial to eczema and helps stimulate healing. It is believed that by using UV light in a controlled setting, the same healing benefits may be achieved. Those who have accompanying lesions with eczema may find that light therapy speeds the skin’s ability to heal and recover. Though light therapy can be beneficial, it also has risks. Long-term exposure to UV light can lead to burned skin, skin damage, and may possibly increase the risk of skin cancer.
- Ultraviolet Light Treatment: Baylor College of Medicine discusses eczema and the use of ultraviolet light treatments.
- New Light Therapy offers Effective Treatment for Patients with Morphea, Eczema: Southwestern Medical Center discusses eczema and light therapy.
- Dermatology: Photo Light Therapy: University of South Florida discusses eczema and photo light therapy.
Nutrition and Eczema
Studies show a connection between allergies and eczema. The connection is so strong that when a child is tested for eczema, they are often tested for allergies as well. Determining trigger foods that lead to eczema and other allergic reactions is an important tool for preventing flare-ups. UCLA reports that one-third of children with eczema report their symptoms worsen when eating a food that is a known allergen. Some treatment methods include immunotherapy, which helps reduce the body’s susceptibility to known food allergens.
- Organic Food and Eczema British Journal of Nutrition looks at the correlation between eczema and organic foods.
- Food Allergy, Questions and Answers: UCLA looks at food allergies and answers question whether eczema is a symptom of food allergy.
- Eczema/Atopic Dermatitis: PDF file from Penn State University discusses treatments and symptoms of eczema and points out foods that my cause flare-ups.
- Allergy Statistics: Connecting between food allergies and eczema documented.
According to the Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FAAN), approximately 10-20% of children in the United States and 1-3% of adults suffer from eczema. The National Library of Medicine – National Institute of Health states that eczema is very low in Iran with approximately less than 2% of the population experiencing symptoms. This was in contrast to Japan, where more than 16% of people suffer from the disease. During a study conducted by the Queen’s Medical Centre, University Hospital in Nottingham, United Kingdom it was learned that areas such as Northern Europe and Australia had higher cases of eczema than those in Eastern Europe, Central Europe, and Asia. The study findings led the researchers to conclude that environment is an important factor in eczema.
- Eczema Prevalence in the United States: Data from the 2003 National Survey of Children’s Health.
- Study reveals major shift in how Eczema Develops: University of Rochester Medical Center discusses two skin barriers involved in eczema.