Eczema is characterized by itchy, dry, rough, flakey, inflamed, and irritated skin. It can flare up, subside, and then flare up again. It can occur anywhere but usually affects the arms, inner elbows, backs of the knees, or head (particularly the cheeks and the scalp). It is not contagious and becomes less severe with age.
Eczema can cause intense itching. Scratching further irritates and inflames the skin. This can cause infections that must be treated with antibiotics.
Types of Eczema
- Contact dermatitis is caused by contact with irritants. Burning, itching, and redness occur. The inflammation goes away when the irritant is removed.
- Dyshidrotic dermatitis affects fingers, palms of the hands, and soles of the feet. It causes itchy, scaly patches of skin that flake or become red, cracked, and painful. The condition is more common in women.
- Nummular dermatitis causes dry, round patches of skin in the winter months. It usually affects the legs. It is more common in men.
- Seborrheic dermatitis causes itchy, red, scaly rashes, particularly on the scalp, on the eyebrows, on the eyelids, on the sides of the nose, and behind the ears.
Causes of Eczema
Eczema is sometimes caused by an abnormal response to proteins that are part of the body. Normally, the immune system ignores proteins that are part of the human body and attacks only the proteins of invaders, such as bacteria or viruses. In eczema, the immune system loses the ability to distinguish between the two, which causes inflammation.
An Eczema flare-up is when one or more eczema symptoms appear on the skin. Common triggers of eczema flare-ups include:
- chemicals found in cleaners and detergents that dry out the skin
- rough scratchy material like wool
- synthetic fabrics
- raised body temperature
- temperature changes
- sudden drop in humidity
- food allergies
- animal dander
- upper respiratory infections