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Home / Eczema and Dermatitis

Eczema and Dermatitis

Common Types of Skin Conditions and How To Treat Them

Dermatitis is the overall name for certain skin conditions, one of the most common being contact dermatitis (otherwise known as eczema). In some cases, eczema can clear completely by itself, however, many individuals use treatments applied directly to the infected area to ease symptoms and prompt faster recovery.

What are eczema & dermatitis?

Eczema and dermatitis are two names for the same group of conditions that cause the skin to become dry, itchy and inflamed.

Most types of eczema are long-term or 'chronic', though the severity of the symptoms often vary. People with eczema often experience periodic 'flare-ups' where the condition worsens.

Eczema and dermatitis can affect any part of the body; however, they are most common on the hands, crooks of the elbows and back of the knees. In young children, eczema and dermatitis often affect the face and scalp.

There are several types of eczema, the most common being atopic eczema, discoid eczema and contact dermatitis.

Atopic eczema, which may also be called atopic dermatitis, is very common. It results in dry, inflamed, cracked skin that itches persistently. Children tend to outgrow this condition, but those who get atopic eczema and dermatitis as adults generally have it throughout their lives.

Discoid eczema (or discoid dermatitis), has the same symptoms as atopic eczema but it manifests as circular or oval patches on the skin. Without treatment, these patches can be present for long periods of time and may even return after treatment.

Contact dermatitis is a reaction that occurs when the body touches a specific substance (usually an irritant or an allergen).

Other types of eczema and dermatitis include:

  • Varicose eczema – This condition is caused by poor blood flow in the lower legs.
  • Seborrheic eczema – Affects the nose, ears, scalp and eyebrows.
  • Dyshidrotic eczema – Also known as pompholyx, this type of eczema causes blisters to form on the palms of the hands.

There is not yet a cure for eczema and dermatitis. However, there are many treatments available to help moisturise the skin, alleviate discomfort and prevent recurrence.

What causes eczema & dermatitis?

Different types of eczema are caused by different triggers, though many are still unknown. However, we do know that eczema and dermatitis are not contagious.

Several factors are thought to contribute to atopic eczema. It's widely believed that it occurs in people who get allergies, which is why it has been named atopic eczema. (The definition of atopic is 'sensitive to allergens'.)

Atopic eczema often runs in families and can progress alongside other ailments such as asthma and hay fever.

Symptoms of atopic eczema are often made worse by certain triggers. These include soaps, detergents, stress, the weather and temperature. Food allergies might also cause a flare-up of atopic eczema, especially for young children with history of the condition.

Contact dermatitis has a much more obvious cause. It presents after the body encounters either an irritant or allergen.

Irritants directly damage the outer layer of skin and include soaps, solvents or even regular contact with water. Allergens cause a reaction within the immune system that affects the skin.

Sometimes it's possible to determine what these triggers are and avoid them as part of managing your condition.

The cause of discoid eczema is also unknown but is suspected to be a result of having dry skin.

This means that your skin has no barrier against any substance it touches. In this situation, even harmless substances such as soap may damage the skin and cause eczema. This suggests that contact dermatitis may contribute to discoid eczema.

This form of eczema does not run in families, but it is very common for individuals who have it to experience a minor skin injury, such as an insect bite or burn, before symptoms present.

Certain prescription-strength medications are also associated with discoid eczema, so ask your doctor for advice if you are concerned that they may be causing your issues.

What are the symptoms of eczema & dermatitis?

Eczema and dermatitis are the names of a group of skin conditions that usually result in dry, itchy red skin. Typically, there will be times when the symptoms are barely noticeable, and others when the condition worsens or 'flares up'.

However, the symptoms you experience will depend on the type of eczema you may have.

With atopic eczema, the skin is dry, cracked, sore and red. These either present in small patches, or widespread inflamed areas. The skin will also be itchy; this usually gets worse at night.

Atopic eczema can present anywhere on the body, however it's most common on the hands, inside of elbows, behind the knees, or the face and scalp (in young children).

You may also experience red or brown patches in these key areas:

  • Hands
  • Wrists
  • Bend of the elbow
  • Upper chest
  • Neck
  • Eyelids
  • Behind the knee
  • Ankles
  • Feet

Over time the condition will progress. The skin may thicken, crack and become scaly. Several small raised bumps may leak fluid and a crust may form over the top.

Scratching atopic eczema can result in raw skin that's extremely sensitive and might swell up even more.

If you have contact dermatitis, your skin will blister, become red, be very dry and probably crack. This usually occurs an hour or two after contact with an irritant or allergen.

This type of eczema can affect any part of the body. However, typically it will present on your hands and face.

Discoid eczema presents similarly to atopic eczema, but in characteristic circular or oval patches. It can affect all areas of the body, although it doesn't tend to present on the face or scalp in adults.

This condition begins as a cluster of red spots or bumps. They then join together to form a larger patch. These are usually red, brown or pink and can span from a couple of millimetres to numerous centimetres in size.

These patches often swell, covered with fluid-filled blisters, and tend to ooze fluid. Over time they become dry and crusty. The skin starts to crack and flake away.

Sometimes the centre of the patch will clear, leaving a ring of discoloured skin. Often this is mistaken for ringworm.

In many cases, people with discoid eczema get several patches quite close to each other. However, it is possible to just get one.

Occasionally, permanent discolouration can occur to the skin affected by discoid eczema, despite the condition clearing up.

All types of eczema bring with them an increased risk of skin infections. It is important to recognise symptoms of skin infections, so you can treat them early on. The most common are:

  • Oozing fluid
  • Yellow crust
  • Red, hot, swollen, tender or painful skin
  • Feeling sick or generally unwell
  • Chills

How to treat eczema & dermatitis

Treatment can help relieve symptoms of eczema and dermatitis, and in some cases the condition improves over time. However, there is currently no cure.

Severe cases of eczema often have a significant effect on self-image, confidence and daily life. It can be difficult to cope with this condition physically and mentally.

The aim is to manage all aspects of the condition, and regular counselling may help with this.

There are several self-care techniques you can try to minimise the effects of eczema:

  • Do not scratch affected areas
  • Avoid known triggers
  • Keep a food diary to determine if specific items exacerbate symptoms
  • Clean your skin as soon as you come into contact with irritants
  • Use gloves to protect your hands where possible – though take them off regularly as sweating may aggravate the condition.

There are also many over-the-counter and prescription medications you can try.

Emollients, a form of moisturising treatment, can be used daily to soothe and hydrate the skin. They should be applied directly to cover the skin with a protective film that traps in moisture.

Emollients come in many forms, so pick one that's best for you:

  • Lotions are best for hairy or damaged areas of skin. However, you will need to apply these multiple times a day.
  • Sprays are great for hard to reach areas, or those so sensitive they cannot be touched. They also absorb quickly so are convenient to use when you're in a rush.
  • Creams should be used in the daytime as they absorb quickly and are not very greasy.
  • Ointments work on dry, thickened skin. These are best used at night as they're quite thick and greasy but have excellent moisturising qualities.
  • Bath oils and shower products, as well as soap substitutes, can also help.

Use all of these as instructed in the accompanying leaflet. Most will require at least daily use, if not more frequently.

Another medication you can try is topical corticosteroids. They relieve discomfort by reducing the swelling and itching. These are available in creams, lotions, gels, mousses and ointments.

They are available in four different strengths (also known as potencies):

  1. Mild
  2. Moderate
  3. Potent
  4. Very potent

Mild corticosteroids can be bought over the counter, while stronger medications are only available through a doctor's prescription.

Do not use corticosteroids if you have infected skin, or any of the following conditions: rosacea; acne; skin ulcers; or, any open sores.

Most mild medications are available for use by pregnant or breastfeeding mothers, however very potent corticosteroids should not be used by this group or by young children.

You should use them as directed by your leaflet or doctor, although it will typically be once or twice daily for up to two weeks.

For both emollients and topical corticosteroids, you should apply your treatment directly to the affected area of skin. It's best to do this in the direction the hair grows.

You can use emollients and topical corticosteroids simultaneously; however, you must apply the emollient first, then wait half an hour before applying the topical corticosteroid.

Antihistamines can also treat those with discoid eczema; they reduce itching and help you sleep better.

Stronger medications like oral corticosteroids are available, but these are usually only available through prescription.

If your at-home treatments are not relieving your eczema symptoms, it is best to visit your doctor. They'll diagnose your condition by examining your skin and asking about your family history and lifestyle.

There are several criteria you must meet if you are to receive a diagnosis of atopic eczema. To start, you must have experienced a skin condition that has the symptoms of eczema within the last year.

Then three of these statements must apply to you:

  • The creases of your skin are irritated and inflamed (e.g. inside your elbows or behind your knees)
  • You have a history of skin irritation in those areas
  • You've had generally dry skin for the last year
  • You have experienced asthma or hay fever
  • The condition started before the age of two

Once they have diagnosed you, they will be able to find an appropriate treatment to ease the symptoms. Generally, these are just more potent versions of the over-the-counter medications.

If you have a skin infection, as many people with eczema do, your doctor may prescribe antibiotic cream or oral antibiotics to get rid of it.

How to buy Eczema & Dermatitis medications online

You can buy treatments for Eczema and Dermatitis online. This is a convenient no-hassle way of getting medications delivered straight to your door. To do so, complete a short questionnaire to ensure the treatment is right for you. This means future orders for Eczema are even quicker as well.

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