What is eczema?

Dr. Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine Specialist

Eczema is an allergic disorder of the skin, although the underlying allergy is often difficult to determine, as in atopic dermatitis or atopic eczema. In allergic contact dermatitis, eczema occurs as a response to an allergen touching the skin. Poison ivy would be a severe case of this condition. Irritant contact dermatitis is a milder form and often occurs with body care products, laundry products, and household cleaners, although other irritants may be implicated as well.

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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

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.

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.

Unlike a common rash that gradually goes away, eczema is a persistent condition that results in red, irritated and itchy skin. Continuous scratching may cause infected yellow crusts or bumps on the skin.

Eczema is not contagious but can be uncomfortable both physically and emotionally for children. Children typically outgrow the condition by adolescence, although some people may have it throughout their lives. Parents can take steps to relieve symptoms using topical solutions, antibiotics and other practical strategies.

Eczema is a chronic, inflammatory condition of the skin that most likely has a genetic link. Telltale signs of eczema include dry, itchy, cracked skin on the feet, arms, ankles, face and chest. Scratching areas where eczema appears can make things worse, causing blisters or thickening of the skin. Eczema is usually treated with hydrocortisone topical creams, light therapy, antihistamines or medications that suppress the immune system.

Eczema is a defect in the top layer of the skin that makes it hard for the skin to hold onto moisture. In this video, I will explain that kids with eczema often have cracked, dry and itchy skin.

Dr. William D. Knopf, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

A group of conditions in which the skin becomes inflamed, forms blisters, and becomes crusty, thick, and scaly. Eczema causes burning and itching and may occur over a long period of time. Atopic dermatitis is the most common type of eczema.

This answer is based upon source information from the National Women's Health Information Center.

Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Eczema is a long-lasting condition of the skin that causes itchiness and irritation which can lead to a rash. It is most often seen in young children, and usually appears on the arms, hands and legs.

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.

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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.