Eczema encompasses a variety of skin conditions, most involving breakouts on the skin that are red and itchy. Occasionally, eczema also leads to sores that peel, weep or blister. Eczema is often an allergic disease, but it can occur for other reasons as well.
Types of Eczema
The term "eczema" is commonly used to describe the disease atopic dermatitis, which is a long-lasting allergic condition involving the skin. Contact with allergens makes the skin very itchy, which leads to scratching and then the outbreak of redness and sores that weep, swell, crack and ultimately crust over. Atopic dermatitis is a common problem in childhood, and it sometimes goes away as a child grows older, though it may persist into adulthood.
Other diseases fall under the blanket term "eczema" as well, including contact dermatitis, nummular eczema, seborrheic dermatitis and dyshidrotic eczema. These diseases have a lot in common with one another, especially in terms of how they present themselves on the skin, but they often have different causes. For example, nummular eczema is usually caused by the cold, dry air of the winter months, while seborrheic dermatitis is a byproduct of the body’s oil-producing glands.
Though treatments for eczema will vary somewhat depending what has caused the skin disorder, they do have some things in common. For example, the best way to manage eczema is to avoid the offending allergen or irritant when possible and to seek some soothing skin relief from over-the-counter moisturizers. For more serious cases, topical and oral medications can be prescribed. Corticosteroid creams are generally recommended. A newer topical medication, called an immunomodulator, has helped some people with eczema deal with their symptoms.
SOURCES: National Eczema Association; U.S. National Institute on Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
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