Symptoms of eczema – like dry, itchy patches of skin and raised bumps – are relatively common, but that doesn’t mean they’re comfortable or completely okay having them around. Worse still, it is not always easy to determine whether or not eczema is actually the culprit. Everything from allergies to a condition like psoriasis can cause skin problems that can appear like symptoms of eczema. However, if your dry skin thinks you are a half-balligator, you may be curious about eczema. Below you will find out exactly what eczema is, what causes it, and whether it is more than dry skin. You will also find some tips on how to prevent an outbreak and find relief.
What is eczema?
Eczema is a chronic skin condition that causes itching and inflammation, explains the Mayo Clinic. It can develop at any age, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), but it usually starts in children around the age of 5. For the record, eczema is not contagious, but there is some evidence that it can run in families, SELF previously reported. And while many people consider eczema to be a specific skin condition, there are actually a few main types:
Atopic dermatitis is considered “classic eczema,” said Dr. Gary Goldenberg, Assistant Professor of Dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, previously told SELF. This means that when most people say “eczema” they are likely talking about atopic dermatitis. However, it is the medical term for eczema as a disease, and all other types are considered sub-types of eczema, as SELF previously reported.
2. Dyshidrotic eczema
Dyshidrosis, or dyshidrotic eczema, is a condition where people have small, fluid-filled blisters that often appear on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet, according to the Mayo Clinic. According to the AAD, this is more common in people who already have neurodermatitis. These rashes are also prone to being extremely itchy and lasting for several weeks, explains the Mayo Clinic.
3. Nummular dermatitis
This type of eczema – often referred to as nummular eczema or discoid eczema – occurs after some type of skin injury (such as an insect bite, burn, or cut), as SELF previously reported. Basically, these small reddened bumps often start on arms, legs, hands, feet or the upper body. Then they form a coin-shaped rash, explains the AAD. These bumps can last for weeks or even months and tend to burn and itch while around.
4. Seborrheic dermatitis
Seborrheic dermatitis occurs on your scalp and is often referred to as seborrheic eczema or seborrheic psoriasis, explains the Mayo Clinic. This type of eczema causes large flakes on your scalp (yes, dandruff) as well as on the sides of your nose, eyelids, ears, and chest, says the Mayo Clinic. As SELF previously reported, doctors aren’t entirely sure why people have seborrheic dermatitis, but they do suspect it is due to something called malassezia, a yeast that is usually found in the oil your skin normally secretes. It could also be due to an overactive immune system, explains the Mayo Clinic.
5. Stasis dermatitis
Sometimes referred to as venous eczema, the AAD says this type of eczema is often caused by poor blood circulation. In particular, venous eczema begins on your lower legs and ankles (where poor blood circulation usually sets in), explains the AAD. You may feel heavy and painful for a while walking, but symptoms include swelling and varicose veins with dry, itchy skin. Additionally, your skin could feel puffy, sore, and irritated, the AAD says.
What causes eczema?
Generally, eczema occurs due to a dysfunction in the skin barrier that causes your top layer of skin to be unable to properly retain moisture and protect you from things like irritants, allergens, and environmental factors, according to the Mayo Clinic. This can lead to inflammation, which leads to dry, irritated skin, says Dr. Joshua Drawer, a New York City-based board-certified dermatologist, told SELF.
Eczema is a chronic condition, but various things can make it worse and trigger breakouts. For example, eczema is linked to health problems such as asthma and hay fever. It is therefore not surprising that all three diseases have similar triggers, such as exposure to pollen, mold, dust mites, dander, cold and dry air, cold or flu, irritating chemicals or substances, stress and fragrances.