Eczema, sometimes called atopic dermatitis, is a non-contagious health condition characterized by inflammation, itchiness, redness and dryness of the skin. It is often a chronic ailment that resembles an allergy, though it is not an allergic reaction.
The most common symptom of eczema is chronically itchy, red, flaky, dry skin. The cracked, irritated skin can appear anywhere on the body, but it usually appears on the hands, face, neck, feet and legs.
If scratched, eczema rashes can become inflamed and possibly infected. Signs of a bacterial infection include open sores, crusty patches of skin and light brown or pus-filled blisters. In rare cases, eczema herpiticum may develop. This is a potentially serious complication that is characterized by numerous painful blisters on the areas of affected skin.
Eczema is often found in children, but both kids and adults can have the condition. The condition is thought to be genetic, meaning it runs in families.
Experts disagree on exactly what originally causes eczema, but an overactive immune system is thought to be a possible factor. Other factors include stress, living in cold and/or dry climates, living in urbane areas with high pollution, sweat, dust mites, dry skin and contact with skin-irritating substances such as soap or synthetic fabrics. It isn’t clear why, but children born to older mothers are more susceptible to developing eczema, as are children born in higher social classes.
People with eczema often have a higher risk for developing other conditions like asthma, food allergies, and hay fever. Having eczema also places sufferers at a higher risk of developing the herpes simplex virus from cold sores or genital herpes.
Eczema is not contagious, meaning you cannot catch the disease by coming into contact with someone.
Certain conditions can cause flare-ups of eczema. They include stress, anxiety, coming into contact with wool or man-made fibers, and coming into contact with irritating substances like soap and certain lotions. Triggers are not a cause of eczema, but they can make the condition worse.
For many people, small skin care changes can manage eczema. They include using a humidifier, keeping the skin clean and fully moisturized at all times, and avoiding long, hot showers, which can dry out the skin. Other people may need more extreme skincare options, such as hydrocortisone cream, antihistamines, corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, immunomodulators, ultraviolent light therapy or prescription strength ointments. In extreme cases, doctors may recommend antibiotics if infection is present.