Eczema 101: What is it and what does it look like?
According to the National Eczema Association, eczema affects more than 30 million Americans. This common skin condition usually appears as a red, itchy rash with blisters. Most frequently seen on the arms and behind the knees, eczema can occur on the face as well, especially in children and babies.
Eczema symptoms affect babies, children and adults, and they most frequently appear on the arms, backs of the knees, hands, feet and face. Itching generally begins before the rash appears and leaves skin looking dry, thickened or scaly. Dermatologists are not yet sure of the exact causes of eczema (also known as atopic dermatitis); it is believed this skin condition is caused by the immune system’s response to external irritants, and a compromised skin barrier seems to be associated as well 1—although there may not be an obvious cause. Understanding the signs of eczema is important for getting relief, and over-the-counter eczema skincare products can be effective for temporarily relieving itching associated with minor skin irritations and rashes due to eczema symptoms.
Eczema facts from the National Eczema Association2 :
- 6 million people (10.1%) in the U.S. have some form of eczema
- There are several types of eczema
- Eczema affects more than 20% of African-American children
- Eczema is more common in women
- One-third of those with eczema report that they spend one to three hours per day treating their disease
What is eczema?
Eczema is a non-contagious skin condition that causes red and inflamed skin that can itch and bleed if scratched. Eczema causes include a variety of factors, including genetics, an overreactive immune system, environmental conditions and harsh chemicals,1and it is often associated with a compromised skin barrier3 that allows moisture to evaporate from the skin and leaves skin vulnerable to irritants. In addition to these causes of eczema, specific triggers can cause eczema flare-ups as well. Among the most common are rough fabrics like wool, extreme hot and cold, soaps and detergents, animal dander and even respiratory infections or colds.4 Avoiding these triggers and knowing how to treat the signs of eczema by keeping skin hydrated and relieving the itch are key for helping to minimize and improve outbreaks.5
What does eczema look like?
If you’re not sure if you have eczema symptoms or signs of another skin condition, you may have looked for eczema pictures on the internet. It’s important to keep in mind that signs of eczema can range from mild to severe. Mild eczema can appear as dry, flaky skin, while more severe eczema symptoms can include extreme redness and irritation along with cracking and oozing. Persistent itching is another sign of eczema.6 The ideal way to be sure if you’re experiencing eczema is to see a dermatologist who can properly diagnose the cause of your skin symptoms.
Types of eczema
Eczema is actually a group of skin conditions that cause redness, itching and inflammation of the skin. In addition to the most common form of eczema (atopic dermatitis), the National Eczema Association explains there are several other forms.1
Contact dermatitis: Unlike atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis results when the skin comes in contact with a specific irritant and results in redness, itching and burning. Common causes of contact dermatitis include chemicals, detergents, fumes, cigarette smoke, paints, bleach, wool, skincare products that contain alcohol, soaps, fragrances and allergens such as pollen or animal dander.1
Seborrheic dermatitis: Common in areas with a high concentration of oil glands (such as the upper back, nose and scalp), this type of eczema is not caused by allergic reaction and it is believed microorganisms such as yeast play a role. Seborrheic dermatitis is the cause of cradle cap in babies and dandruff in adults; symptoms can range from dry flakes to greasy scales and redness.7
Dyshidrotic eczema: Small, itchy blisters that appear on the edges of the fingers, toes, palms and soles of the feet are likely dyshidrotic eczema, which can be accompanied by flaking, cracking and pain as well. Stress and allergies are common triggers, and this type of eczema is twice as common in women than men.8
Nummular eczema: This eczema can occur at any age, but its itchy, coin-shaped spots look different than other types. It is believed these eczema symptoms are caused by insect bites or dry, winter skin.9
Stasis dermatitis: Also called gravitational dermatitis and venous eczema, this skin condition is associated with circulation problems that lead to swelling and fluid accumulation in the lower legs. In addition to fluid leaking out of the veins into the skin, this type of eczema also causes redness, itching, scaling and pain.10
- T. Ruzicka, B. Przybilla, J. Ring (2006) Handbook of Atopic Eczema; 2nd edition; Springer
- Proksch, Ehrhardt et al., Journal of Dermatological Science, Volume 43 , Issue 3 , 159-169
- Sidbury R, Tom WL,et al. “Part 4: Guidelines of care for the management of atopic dermatitis. Part 4: Prevention of disease flares and use of adjunctive therapies and approaches.”J Am Acad Dermatol. 2014 Jul;71(1);1218-33.