Eczema, or dermatitis, is a general term used to describe conditions where the skin is inflamed. There are numerous types of eczema and the condition affects around one in every five people. It can be an acute, or sudden, illness or it can be long-lasting, or chronic. A common type of eczema is known as atopic dermatitis, which is typically hereditary and affects areas where the skin forms creases, making them dry, red and itchy. Other types of eczema, such as allergic contact and irritant contact dermatitis, develop following contact with specific substances.
Seborrheic dermatitis differs from other types of eczema in that it is caused by a yeast present on the skin. The condition usually begins on the scalp, causing redness, irritation and dandruff, and it may go on to affect other parts of the body. Seborrheic dermatitis often affects babies, when it is sometimes known as cradle cap.
Nummular dermatitis, or discoid eczema, causes circular patches of irritated, dry, red skin to appear throughout the body, especially on the legs. The condition mainly affects older adults and may be triggered by an injury to the skin, such as a dry patch that becomes infected. Discoid eczema normally lasts for several months.
Hand dermatitis, where eczema is concentrated on the skin of the hands, is one of the types of eczema which tends to have more than one cause. Those affected by the condition may already have atopic or discoid eczema, psoriasis, hay fever or asthma, or be related to someone who does. Hand dermatitis is often mild at first, with areas of dry, red skin, but later itchy lumps and weeping blisters develop, together with skin cracks and swelling. Sometimes the skin may become infected, or the eczema may spread to other areas of the body.
Occupational dermatitis is a common cause of hand eczema, as work which leads to frequent contact with water, detergents or chemicals can trigger what is called irritant contact dermatitis on the skin of the hands. Mechanical friction and irritating chemicals can remove the skin's protective layers, exposing it to damage and encouraging eczema to develop. When the hands come into contact with substances which provoke an allergic reaction, allergic contact dermatitis may occur, where materials such as latex cause itching, swelling and redness.
Dishydrotic dermatitis, or pompholyx, typically affects the hands or feet, with formation of itchy blisters inside the skin. Later, the skin becomes dry and cracked, and areas around nails may swell. Sometimes, nail growth is affected, resulting in ridges appearing.
Treatment of different types of eczema varies but, generally, home management of the condition involves avoiding known skin irritants, using thick creams called emollients that prevent water from leaving the skin, and avoiding scratching. Medications such as steroid creams and antihistamines can be beneficial. If possible, minimizing stress can help many types of eczema.