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What is eczema?

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In this article

What is eczema?
What does eczema look like?
Is eczema acute or chronic?
What are the different types of eczema?
What causes eczema?
Does eczema look like ringworm?
What's the difference between eczema and psoriasis?
Where does eczema develop?
Is eczema contagious?
Can eczema spread?
How long does eczema last? Will I have eczema for life?
How are eczema and asthma related?

What is eczema?

Eczema is a common skin condition. You may also see eczema referred to as dermatitis. Eczema and dermatitis are the same thing and the words are used interchangeably.

Eczema can cause a lot of problems for sufferers as it can be very uncomfortable. This complex condition is becoming more prevalent, with cases having risen quite dramatically over the last decade. Approximately 11.5% of the population will suffer from eczema at some point in their lives.

Here we discuss what eczema looks like, how to know if you have eczema, what the different eczema types are, is eczema itchy, is eczema scaly, what causes it and the best eczema care for your skin.

What does eczema look like?

The symptoms of eczema include inflamed, itchy and dry skin. Eczema can cause extremely itchy patches of skin which can be dry and scaly or blistered, oozy and crusty. It tends to occur more in those with dry, sensitive skin.

It’s often found around the knees, elbows, hands, neck and ears. The symptoms can get worse if the skin becomes itchy, making it hard to resist scratching. Most people develop eczema before the age of five and half of those that do continue to have symptoms as an adult.

Is eczema acute or chronic?

Eczema can be acute or chronic. Acute eczema develops quickly, forming red patches of skin irritation and rashes that can become blistered, oozy and swollen.

Chronic eczema develops over time and is often a long term condition. It sometimes causes the affected areas of skin to become darker and thicker than the rest of the skin and become intensely itchy.

Sometimes, it’s possible to suffer with both acute and chronic eczema and this in-between form is known as subacute eczema.

What are the different types of eczema?

The two most common types of eczema are atopic eczema and contact eczema. But there are also many other types of eczema. These include seborrheic dermatitis, follicular eczema, varicose eczema and pompholyx, also referred to as dyshidrotic eczema.

Atopic eczema

Atopic eczema usually occurs in skin folds such as behind the ears, on the backs of the knees and on the inner side of the elbows. Symptoms include dry, red, itchy and scaly patches of skin. It usually runs in families, but not always and often goes hand in hand with also having asthma and hay fever. Contact eczema usually occurs on the hands, feet and face. Symptoms include red, itchy, dry skin, blisters and cracks.

Contact eczema

There are two types of contact eczema – irritant and allergic. Irritant contact eczema or dermatitis is triggered by an irritant such as soap touching the skin. Allergic contact eczema or dermatitis is triggered by an internal allergic response to something such as nickel plated jewellery touching the skin.

What causes eczema?

There is no one specific cause of eczema, instead there are many causes of eczema. It may develop as a result of stress, genetics, food and chemical sensitivities, allergies, a lowered immune system, reactions to household products or environmental factors.

As everyone has their unique trigger for eczema, you may need to undertake a process to find out what your trigger is. Once you’ve found your trigger, you will need to remove it from your life as much as possible to help keep your eczema flare ups at bay. However, to truly heal eczema you have to treat the root cause and not just the trigger.

Many people develop eczema as a young child, but it is possible to develop eczema in your 30s, 40s or beyond.

To find out more on what causes eczema visit our what causes eczema article.

Does eczema look like ringworm?

Ringworm is a skin condition caused by a fungus that causes symptoms similar to a type of eczema called nummular eczema. Both nummular eczema and ringworm cause red, circular rashes on the skin, but they are different skin conditions.

As well as red rings on the skin, nummular eczema also causes larger rashes all over the body that can be red, pink, brown or yellow. The skin becomes itchy and can feel like it’s burning. Ringworm only causes a few spots of red rings rather than spreading all over the body. It doesn’t necessarily cause itching.

The two are often confused but eczema isn’t caused by a fungus whereas ringworm is.

What's the difference between eczema and psoriasis?

As we’ve discussed here, eczema causes red, itching, sometimes broken, inflamed skin. It’s caused by allergens, genetics and / or hormones.

Conversely, psoriasis causes silvery, white, scaly skin and is caused by the body producing too many skin cells. It can also result in red, itchy, irritated skin and that’s why the two conditions are sometimes confused.

If you’re in doubt as to whether you have psoriasis or eczema, it’s important to speak to your GP or specialist skin doctor.

Where does eczema develop?

Eczema can develop anywhere on the body or the face. It’s more common on the hands, feet, backs of the knees, inside the elbows and behind the ears, but it can also develop elsewhere on the face, arms and legs.

You can also get eczema on your eyelids and it’s common for babies to develop eczema on their scalps, where it’s called cradle cap. Some women also experience eczema on their vulva.

Is eczema contagious?

If you know someone with eczema, it’s quite normal to wonder if you can catch eczema. If you have eczema, you probably also worry if eczema is contagious.

Sometimes, having eczema can be extremely upsetting and stressful. But it’s important to remember that even if people think eczema is contagious, it isn’t. You cannot pass eczema onto other people even if you’re having a really bad flare up of your symptoms.

If your eczema becomes infected and is oozing and weeping, it is possible to pass this infection on to someone with broken skin or wounds, but you won’t be passing on your eczema.

If you think you may have caught eczema from someone, it’s almost certainly not eczema, and will be another skin condition.

Can eczema spread?

Eczema cannot spread from person to person, but someone with eczema can develop eczema patches anywhere on their body.

It’s difficult, but resisting the urge to scratch your skin can help prevent your eczema patches from spreading. Touching non-infected eczema and then touching another area of your body will not cause eczema to spread.

How long does eczema last? Will I have eczema for life?

Some people develop eczema as a baby and have it for the rest of their lives. It may come and go, but may never totally disappear.

It’s possible to develop eczema as an adult, and eczema can get worse with age. But it’s also possible to ‘grow out’ of eczema too.

We’re all individuals and if we have eczema prone skin, we all have different experiences of eczema.

How long your eczema flare ups last will depend on the trigger, your skin type and how well your treat your skin and avoid scratching as much as possible.

Severe eczema can leave scars, especially if you’ve scratched your skin a lot. Continued scratching can lead to ‘lichenification’ of the skin. This means that skin becomes extremely dry and leathery.

How are eczema and asthma related?

Eczema and asthma often go hand in hand. If you have eczema, especially as a child, you’re more likely to develop asthma.

Doctors call this the ‘atopic march’. Researchers think it’s due to substances released by inflamed eczematic skin that can travel around the body and trigger asthma when air borne allergens are present.

Research continues on the link between eczema and asthma, and how treating eczema effectively can help to stop the development of asthma.

How can eczema be treated?

There are many different treatments for eczema, depending on your symptoms and triggers. For more on treating eczema, see our in depth pages dedicated to eczema treatments and caring for eczema.

If you’re looking for skincare to help support and nourish your eczema prone skin, our range of alkalising cleaners and moisturisers have been specially developed for those with problem skin.

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