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What is eczema?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Eczema (dermatitis) is a skin disease that commonly causes a red, itchy rash, though there are several types of eczema. It may also result in blisters that ooze, or scaling and scabbing of the skin. The most common is atopic dermatitis, which causes inflammation of the top layers of skin. It's common among those who suffer from asthma, hay fever or food allergies. Other types of eczema include:

  • contact dermatitis - caused by contact with a specific material
  • seborrhic dermatitis - affects your face and scalp
  • nummular dermatitis - irritation appears in round spots
  • generalized exfoliative dermatitis - affects the entire surface of your skin
  • stasis dermatitis - caused by pooling blood in your lower legs
  • localized scratch dermatitis - caused by incessant scratching
  • perioral dermatitis - affects your mouth and chin
  • pompholyx - may affect your palms, the soles of your feet or your fingers

Eczema is a problem with the skin. Eczema makes skin more sensitive. Eczema can make skin look red and feel sore and itchy, so people want to scratch.

An estimated 15 million people in the United States have some form of eczema. Also known as atopic dermatitis, this condition causes an itchy, red, cracked, scaly rash that can occur anywhere on the body, but most commonly on the arms and the backs of the knees, as well as on the hands, feet, face and neck. It is hereditary and often occurs in individuals who suffer asthma or hay fever. Dry skin, certain soaps and bathing too frequently worsen the condition; moisturizers and humid air may improve it. Adults may get a form called nummular eczema, which tends to be scaly, coin-shaped spots on the arms and legs.

This chronic skin disorder, which tends to run in families, involves scaly and itchy rashes, and is often due to a sensitivity in the skin much like an allergy. This allergy leads to short-term and long-term inflammation. Eczema is very common in infants and young children, and in adults can be chronic. People with eczema often aggravate the condition by continuing to scratch the affected area, which causes it to thicken and thicker skin is itchier.

From The Mind-Beauty Connection: 9 Days to Less Stress, Gorgeous Skin, and a Whole New You by Amy Wechsler.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.