If your skin flakes and itches from time to time, you probably have eczema. This skin condition is common in children, but adults can develop it as well. Sometimes, the skin condition starts from childhood and continues well into adulthood.
Most often, eczema is called atopic dermatitis, which is the most common form. It is not contagious, so you won’t catch it by touching the affected area of a person with eczema. While the exact cause of eczema is unknown, researchers discovered that people who develop eczema do so because of a combination of genes and environmental triggers. When an allergen or irritant from outside or inside the body switches on the immune system, it produces inflammation.
Eczema is usually itchy, and the itch can range from mild to moderate. Itching becomes worse if the skin becomes extremely inflamed. Sometimes, the itch gets so bad that people have it scratch until it bleeds, which can make eczema worse. This is called the “itch-scratch cycle.”
The appearance of eczema and its symptoms are different for everyone. The eczema you have on your skin may not look like the eczema another adult has or the eczema that your child has. Other types of eczema appear in different areas of the body at different times.
Here are the most common symptoms for all types of eczema:
- Redness and inflammation
- Dry, rough, scaly skin
People with eczema usually also experience oozing or crusting and swelling in some areas.
You might have all symptoms of eczema, or just a few. The flare-ups or your symptoms can go away entirely. The best way to make sure if you have eczema is to consult a medical professional who can take a look at your skin and ask about your symptoms.
Types of Eczema and its Symptoms
Eczema appears in different spots in the body and in different forms. Here are its most common types and its symptoms:
1. Atopic Dermatitis
Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema. Usually, it develops in childhood and gets milder or goes away by adulthood. Atopic dermatitis is part of what medical professionals call the atopic triad. The other two diseases in the triad are hay fever and asthma. Many who develop atopic dermatitis have all three conditions.
Atopic dermatitis usually begins in a person before age five and may persist into adolescence and adulthood. For some people, flares are periodic and clear up for a time or even for several years. Symptoms may worsen for a period, followed by periods of improvement.
Generally, atopic dermatitis has symptoms such as:
- Skin flushing
- Dry, scaly skin
- Open, crusted, or weeping sores
In infants under the age of two, these are the most common symptoms of atopic dermatitis:
- Bumpy rashes
- Rashes that show up behind the creases of elbows and/or knees
- Rashes that appear on the wrists, ankles, neck, and the crease between the buttocks and legs
- Rashes that either becomes light or dark
- Thickening of the skin
In adults, the following are the common symptoms of atopic dermatitis:
- Rashes that are more scaly than those in children
- Rashes that appear in the nape of the neck or in the creases of the knees or elbows
- Extremely dry skin on the affected areas
- Rashes that cover much of the body
- Rashes that are always itchy
- Skin infections
When atopic dermatitis developed as a child, adults who no longer have the condition may still have hand eczema, dry or easily irritated skin, and eye problems.
The appearance of skin with atopic dermatitis will vary depending on how much a person scratches. Rubbing and scratching can further irritate the skin, increasing inflammation and making the itching worse.
The cause of atopic dermatitis is the weakening of the natural barrier of the skin. Healthy skin retains moisture and protects you from bacteria, allergens, and irritants. Sometimes, eczema is caused by a gene variation that affects the skin’s ability to provide this kind of protection. However, atopic dermatitis can be caused by a combination of factors such as dry skin, genes, problems in the immune system, and environmental triggers. For some children, food allergies can cause eczema.
People at risk for developing atopic dermatitis are those with personal or family history of allergies, eczema, hay fever, or asthma.
2. Contact Dermatitis
If you experience redness and itchiness after coming into contact with an irritating substance, you probably have contact dermatitis. It comes in two types: allergic contact dermatitis is a reaction to an irritant like certain metals or latex, while irritant contact dermatitis develops when a chemical or other substance irritates your skin.
Substances that may cause allergic contact dermatitis include:
- Nickel or other metals, usually caused by jewelry
- Rubber products, such as latex
- Sunscreens and skincare products, including makeup
- Poison ivy, poison oak, or other poisonous plants
- Preservatives, such as sulfites and formaldehyde
- Tattoo ink
- Black henna, which can be used for hair dye or tattoos
Meanwhile, irritant contact dermatitis is caused by toxins, usually found in detergents and cleaning products. It may also result from repeated exposure to non-toxic substances. Soap is a substance that can cause either irritant contact dermatitis or allergic contact dermatitis.
Contact dermatitis doesn’t always cause a skin reaction right away. You may notice symptoms developing anywhere from 12 to 72 hours after exposure.
Symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis include:
- Dry, scaly areas in the skin
- Blistered areas that may ooze and crust over
- Red skin
- Burning or stinging feeling in the skin even without visible skin sores
- Sensitivity to the sun
These symptoms can last anywhere from two to four weeks after exposure.
Neurodermatitis is a lot like atopic dermatitis. It’s a skin condition that starts with an itchy patch on the skin. When scratched, it can be itchier. The itch-scratch cycle can cause the skin to become thick and leathery.
Also known as lichen simplex chronicus, neurodermatitis is not a life-threatening or contagious disease. However, the itch can be so intense or recurrent that it disrupts your sleep, sexual function, and overall quality of life. It’s usually a lifelong condition, and treatment success depends on resisting the urge to scratch or rub the affected areas.
Signs and symptoms of neurodermatitis include:
- Thick, itchy patches of skin formed in the arms, legs, scalp, back of the neck, bottoms of the feet, back of the hands, or genitals
- Leathery and scaly texture on the affected areas
- Raised, rough patches of skin that are redder or darker than the rest of your skin
- When scratched, it causes bleeding or infection
The causes of neurodermatitis are unknown. What can cause the itching and scratching may begin with something that simply irritates the skin, like a bug bite or tight clothing. But as you rub or scratch the area, it gets itchier. In some cases, it is associated with other types of eczema, psoriasis, or other chronic skin conditions. Stress and anxiety can worsen the condition as well.
4. Dyshidrotic Eczema
Dyshidrotic eczema affects the hands and feet. It is the type of eczema characterized by blisters forming on the fingers, toes, hands, and feet. The blisters are fluid-filled and may be more common on the edges of the affected areas. These blisters are usually very itchy and cause the skin to flake.
Symptoms of dyshidrotic eczema include:
- Fluid-filled blisters on the skin of the fingers, toes, palms, and soles of the feet
- Redness of skin
- Scaly, cracking, and flaky skin
Sometimes, the blisters become large and painful to the touch. It may last up to three weeks before they start to dry up. And when the blisters dry up, they will turn into skin cracks, which, when scratched, may cause the skin to seem thicker or feel spongy.
Dyshidrotic eczema can be caused by allergies, damp hands, and feet, stress, exposure to substances, or a combination of these said causes.
5. Hand Eczema
Also known as hand dermatitis, hand eczema is a condition that affects the hand. It often affects people who work in cleaning, hairdressing, catering, laundry or dry cleaning, healthcare, and mechanical jobs where they regularly come into contact with chemicals and other irritants.
Symptoms of hand eczema include:
- Redness and dryness of skin
- Cracks or blisters
6. Nummular Eczema
This type of eczema is characterized by round, coin-shaped spots that form into the skin. The word “nummular” means “coin” in Latin, hence the term.
Also known as nummular dermatitis or discoid eczema, nummular eczema is a chronic condition with well-defined spots and can itch a lot. The affected areas may ooze clear fluid or become dry and crusty.
This type of eczema often appears after a skin injury, burns, abrasions, or insect bites. It may appear as one patch or multiple patches of coin-shaped, reddish lesions.
Signs and symptoms of nummular eczema include:
- Round, coin-shaped spots that may be red, pink, or brown
- Scaly patches
7. Stasis Dermatitis
Stasis dermatitis – also known as venous eczema, gravitational dermatitis, or venous stasis dermatitis – is a long-term skin condition that happens due to poor circulation in the lower legs. It happens in people with underlying health conditions that cause blood flow problems in the lower legs, such as varicose veins, chronic venous insufficiency, congestive heart failure, or deep vein thrombosis (DVT). This skin condition happens when fluid leaks out of weakened veins into the skin.
Symptoms of stasis dermatitis include:
- Swelling of the lower part of the legs
- Dry and itchy skin, typically over the varicose veins
- Achy or heavy-feeling legs
- Open sores on lower legs and the tops of the feet