Eczema describes a wide range of conditions that cause dry, irritated and itchy skin, including:
- Atopic eczema is the most common form, usually occurring in areas where there are folds of skin. This includes areas such as the hands (especially the fingers), the inside of the elbows and knees, on the side of the neck, and around the ears and eyes.
- Contact dermatitis, which occurs when the body comes into contact with a particular substance (irritant or allergen)
- Varicose eczema usually affects the lower legs and is caused by circulation problems in the veins of the leg
- Seborrhoeic eczema causes red, scaly patches to develop on the sides of the nose, eyebrows, scalp and ears
- Dyshidrotic eczema (pompholyx) causes small blisters on the palms of the hands
- Discoid eczema occurs in oval patches on the skin
Eczema patients often have a family history of eczema and may also suffer from allergies, with the condition being experienced alongside hay fever or asthma for example. Eczema is more common in children, but can affect people of all ages.
For children, eczema will usually get better over time, with or without treatment. However, for adults, particularly where symptoms are severe, medication or ultra-violet treatment may be required to relieve symptoms. This may be available through your doctor or a specialist dermatologist.
The exact cause of atopic eczema, the most common form of eczema, is not fully understood. It is not usually caused by just one factor and atopic eczema is usually closely associated with allergies (atopic means ‘sensitive to allergens’).
For patients, symptoms of atopic eczema frequently have specific triggers (the weather for example, or soaps, detergents, stress or certain foods). Diet or lifestyle can therefore affect your symptoms and the severity of the condition.
Atopic eczema causes areas of skin to become itchy, red, inflamed, dry, cracked, sore or thickened.
Symptoms may improve for a while and flare up at other times; this cycle may occur every week or two.
Atopic eczema usually occurs in areas where there are folds of skin, including the hands (especially the fingers), inside knees and elbows, the side of the neck, and around ears and eyes.
The severity of symptoms varies widely between patients. Mild eczema may only affect a small area of skin, making it itchy only very occasionally. Severe symptoms of atopic eczema include constant itching of widespread areas of red, inflamed skin all over the body.
Scratching can be very disruptive, especially at night; this can lead to sleepless nights, tiredness and difficulty concentrating during the day. This can adversely affect your quality of life. Scratching can also make your skin bleed, potentially leading to secondary infections.
Symptoms can include:
- itchy areas of skin
- red or inflamed skin
- dry, cracked or broken skin
- thickened skin
Your doctor will usually be able to diagnose atopic eczema after discussing your symptoms and examining any areas of affected skin. You may be referred to a specialist for further tests or appropriate treatment.
If you are suffering with a suspected condition, you should seek the advice of your doctor who will be able to refer you to Benenden Hospital for diagnosis and treatment.