What is eczema?
“Eczema” is usually used as a generalized term for a family of conditions that cause the skin to become red, flaky, scaly, irritated, itchy, oozy, cracked, blistered and/or swollen.

What are some of the more common causes of eczema?
Atopic Dermatitis: This is the most common form of eczema seen mostly in babies and in young children. It begins as intense itching, and then a red rash forms. It can become a chronic problem, so it is important to seek medical treatment early. People with atopic dermatitis have a problem with their skin barrier, so allergens and irritants are allowed into the skin more easily. Oftentimes, those with atopic dermatitis will also have personal or family history of allergies and asthma.

Contact Dermatitis: This is an irritation or allergic reaction to something that is coming in contact with the skin, resulting in a red, itchy rash. Common causes include nickel allergy, poison ivy and detergents. Treatment is aimed at eliminating the causative agent and application of topical medications to allow the skin to heal.

Seborrheic Dermatitis: This is a common condition affecting people of all ages. In infants it is known as “cradle cap”. In adults, it commonly affects the scalp, eyebrows, nasal folds, ears, chin, skin folds, chest and back. It is believed to be caused by overgrowth of normally occurring yeast on the skin. This causes a red rash with a yellowish, greasy scale and flaking,with or without itching. This condition generally flares throughout life and will require treatment which usually consists of antifungal agents, topical corticosteroid agents, topical calcineurin inhibitors, or medicated shampoos.

Photo of Sub-acute eczemaSub-acute eczema characterized by lichenification (thickening of skin), scaling, and excoriation marks.
Photo of chronic eczemaChronic eczema characterized by thickened, pink scaly patches and plaques.

Hand Dermatitis: This is very common in industries involving cleaning, catering, metalwork, hairdressing, healthcare and mechanical work, or in any field that one’s hands are being washed a lot or involved in wet work. It often begins as red and dry skin that progresses to bumps and small vesicles with cracking, weeping and swelling. It can turn into a bacterial infection due to the loss of integrity of the skin.

Nummular eczema: Characterized by red, itchy, scaly spots in the shape of a coin. The cause is unknown and it is typically a chronic condition that has periods of flare and remission. It often worsens during winter months when skin becomes dry.

How is eczema diagnosed?
Your dermatologist will work with you to try to determine the exact cause. It may be necessary to do a trial elimination of certain foods, jewelry, cosmetics, detergents, soaps, and fragrances. A skin patch test can help identify some of the more common allergens that could be causing the rash.

How is eczema treated?
Eczema can be extremely difficult and stubborn to treat, so it is important to be consistent with your appointments and with the treatment given to you by your dermatologist. Treatment options for eczema include topical medications, oral systemic medications, and light sources.