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Everything You Need to Know About Eczema

What is Eczema?

Eczema is quite similar to a rash. Found on the body, it causes small itchy blisters to appear and can be troublesome to deal with. Eczema is a very itchy condition which can irritate a person weeks before it even shows up, in the form of itching or peeling dry skin. There is no definite cause for how eczema comes about but there are many reasons it may happen. 

Eczema is a relatively interesting condition. Anyone can get eczema and it can appear at any stage in life anywhere on the body. How bad a case of eczema a person has depends on themselves and their body's immune system. Those with poor immune systems, who are older or very young, may be affected more adversely than those who are still very healthy.

Tables of Contents:

Eczema & Heat Waves
Types of Eczema
Relationship between Eczema & Psoriasis
Difference between Eczema & Molluscum


eczema rash

What Causes Eczema?

Stress can cause eczema, it seems when someone is under pressure they are a lot more likely to have eczema occur.

If eczema is present, stress can cause the rash to become worse. Huge changes in weather can affect the body which may cause eczema. If the climate or weather a person is used to all of the sudden changes, perhaps on a long vacation or moving from one place with a warm climate, to a colder location, or vice versa, the body may not adapt well. In areas where it is hot and sweat is present often, or cold where the body is dry, an outbreak of eczema may occur. Eczema is mainly genetic, those whose parents had it are quite likely to experience outbreaks as well.

Irritants in the air such as tobacco smoke can trigger eczema. It does not matter whether the person is smoking directly or it is being passed through the air as second hand smoke. Chemicals and solvents, such as paint thinner or cleaning solvents like bleach or window cleaner, can all irritate or cause a person to get eczema via contact. There are many causes for an outbreak of eczema, allergens, harsh changes in weather or genes can be a reason. Many people have allergies to plants dust, dust mites and so fourth. Lastly, causes of eczema could lie in what a person eats. Some nuts and dairy products, preservatives and wheat products are a few which can contribute to the occurence of eczema.

The best thing to do in cases of eczema is keep a list of foods eaten and when outbreaks occur try avoid eating or being around these so as not to provoke an eczema outbreak. As stated earlier there are no certain causes for why people get eczema and there is no cure, only ways to manage the rash when it does cause outbreaks.

Symptoms & Diagnosis of Eczema

Eczema usually starts out with an annoying constant itch; this can be anywhere on the body and last for a few weeks before a breakout. The itching caused by eczema is extremely hard to ignore as it is unlike other normal body itches, it doesn't go away and only gets worse, until it is scratched. Before the actual eczema shows on the body it can keep you awake at night with constant itching until the skin is torn open, even then the itch is there.

The symptoms of eczema can vary. Itching is of course the first symptom of an eczema outbreak. Those who are stressed or sweat a lot are prone to eczema. Other signs, along with itching, include very dry skin. When the skin dries out enough it is also prone to cracking with movement and can peel and flake off. There is always a constant urge to pick off pieces of the skin but this only makes the area more red and inflamed before the eczema even shows.

Small red spots start appearing where the area is inflamed. Eczema has a tendency to cause many small blisters. People who have never had or heard of eczema assume these may be pimples and scratch them off. This is a huge no-no as the blisters are filled with a small amount of liquid that can cause a lot more eczema to appear. These blisters can be small red and frequent. Eczema also shows up as white tipped pus filled blisters, which almost always look like zits, and may pop open causing the rash to spread further.

Eczema can go down the body in a line or stay in small clusters. If irritated and broken up enough both of these may occur.. The eczema rash may start to disappear and the skin will start to heal and go back to normal, then the terrible itch starts all over again. It is usually a clear sign that a person has eczema when they are healing and the itch comes back just the same as it started.

Remember if eczema is suspected it's probably there. The symptoms start out as itching on the part of the body the eczema will eventually appear. The next cycle of symptoms are red skin, flaking and peeling of the infected area and lastly blisters which can be mistaken for zits. Consult a doctor if itching continues or eczema does not heal by itself.

Eczema & Heat Waves 

Eczema and Hot Weather, is There a Link?

The Northern Hemisphere has been experiencing extreme heat and fluctuations in regular seasonal weather over the last few years. This can contribute to a variety of different health problems in all age groups especially when these groups of people are not used to such high temperatures. One such health problem is eczema.

Eczema (or dermatitis as it is sometimes called) is a group of skin conditions which can affect all age groups and can vary in its severity. In its mild form, the skin becomes dry, hot and itchy but in its more severe form, the skin can become broken, raw and bleeding. Eczema is not contagious even though it can sometimes look unpleasant. There are several different types of eczema but there are a number of ways to manage eczema and most important is an effective skin care routine.

Eczema and Dry Skin in the Heat

Dryness of the skin is one of the main problems associated with eczema. This dryness is aggravated by the hot, dry conditions of a heatwave. Too much heat and sweat can make your skin more irritated and itchy. So if you are suffering from eczema try to avoid activities that make you hot and sweaty since in hot weather the body sweats more causing water loss from the skin. It is important not to wear synthetic fabrics and wool clothing or use bedding of similar materials. Cotton clothing and bedding will keep the skin cool and allow it to breathe.

Eczema in Children

Children in particular are more likely to want to scratch their skin when the weather is so hot. Children who are prone to eczema should have their nails kept short and at night-time, it is a good idea to put cotton mittens on the children's hand so that they are less likely to scratch their skin during sleep.

Eczema and Protective Clothing

If the type of work you do necessitates wearing protective clothing and/or gloves and these are made of synthetic material, then try to wear a cotton layer underneath to soak up any sweat. Take occasional breaks and remove the cotton layer to prevent a buildup of sweat.

As soon as you are able to, take a bath or shower using a small amount of mild soap. The temperature should not be too hot but rather cool or warm and it is good idea to soak for 15 to 20 minutes so that the skin’s outer layer can absorb moisture. After your bath or shower, dry the skin carefully by patting rather than rubbing with a soft towel and then apply a moisturizer which will help seal in the moisture.

It is a good idea to use a moisturizer on your skin every day as this will help to keep it soft and flexible. The best moisturizer would be a basic one without extra ingredients or fragrances and one that is more greasy than creamy. You can even use a plain petroleum jelly (for example Vaseline).

Different Types of Eczema

Nummular Eczema 

Nummular eczema is also known as discoid eczema and is a condition that causes a very itchy and easily recognized skin rash with coin shaped patches or lesions on the arms and legs (sometimes in the middle of the body) that ooze and may become crusty.  The skin may look scaly or raw with redness and inflammation.  Nummular eczema is more common in young adulthood and in old age, occurring more often in the fall and winter months rather than the rest of the year.

In most cases, discoid eczema does not run in families nor does it result from a food allergy.  It is not infectious to others although it can become infected by bacteria. There is both a wet and a dry nummular eczema.  Dry skin in the winter months can cause dry non-itchy round patches while the wet type presents as crusted or blistered patches.

There are many causes for nummular eczema and these include:

  • A reaction to topical irritants
  • A manifestation of winter dermatitis
  • A manifestation of atopic dermatitis in children
  • A complication from a staphylococcal infection
  • The result of a local physical or chemical injury
  • An allergy to aloe, hair removal creams, mercury and other irritants
  • The result of very dry skin
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • The result of prescription drugs
  • Extreme stress

Dyshidrotic Eczema

Dyshidrotic Eczema is a rare form of eczema which only affects the hands and feet, appearing as extremely itchy blisters on the palms, soles and sides of fingers and toes. While this form of eczema is aggravated by stress, the main problem is when hands are constantly in water. There is also a connection between dyshidrotic eczema and an allergic reaction to nickel. People who have dyshidrotic eczema can be genetically predisposed to it while some consider the condition to be caused by abnormal sweating. Perfumes and preservatives in soaps and irritants in household cleansers can make things worse. This form of eczema can arise if:

  • You suffered from eczema, hay fever or other allergies when you were a child.
  • Your hands are frequently exposed to water where constant wetting and drying breaks down the skin's protective outer barrier.
  • Your hands come into contact with irritating chemicals.
  • Your feet are encased in shoes providing warm, moist conditions

Eczema Herpeticum

There are two conditions which when combined can cause a complication which, although rare, can be dangerous. It is known as eczema herpeticum. Of the two conditions that cause this life threatening illness, one condition is eczema and the other is herpes.

Eczema causes dry, itchy skin rashes and although eczema results in considerable discomfort, it is not life threatening. Different types of eczema include atopical dermatitis, discoid, nummular and contact dermatitis.Herpes is caused by the herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2 and can lead to cold sores around the mouth or genital herpes.  Although it can be very painful and include flu-like symptoms, an outbreak of herpes will eventually resolve itself and will not be dangerous.

The problem arises when the two conditions combine and you get eczema herpeticum. Unless very mild, this condition is considered to be a medical emergency because of the risk of superinfection.  The complication can occur in male or female at any age and, although it usually lasts for approximately 16 days, it can continue for several weeks.

Eczema Herpeticum will first appear as a rash with clusters of small blisters. These blisters will often have a characteristic dome with an indentation.  A fever and flu-like symptoms also occur with the rash either remaining in the same area as the pre-existing eczema or spreading over the entire body.  Apart from pain, you may be aware of light sensitivity. As the condition worsens, the blisters become filled with pus before developing a crust and starting to bleed, similar to impetigo.

Baby Eczema

Many parents become concerned when they notice a skin rash during the early years of their baby's life.  This rash often appears in the skin folds of the arms, neck or legs but it can also occur first on a baby's forehead, cheeks and scalp before spreading to other parts of the body.

Baby eczema can look like dry, thickened and scaly skin or be made up of tiny red bumps that can blister and ooze. Baby eczema is not contagious.

Baby eczema is very common and affects around 1 in 5 children. The face and scalp are most commonly affected in babies, and as children get older, it spreads to the limb creases – backs, wrists, ankle and neck, and the front of the elbows being the most likely sites to be affected.

Why do babies suddenly develop baby eczema?

  • Many families find that eczema is inherited from a parent or close family member who suffers from hay fever, eczema, asthma or other allergies.
  • Although it is not an allergic reaction to a substance, baby eczema can be triggered by certain allergens in your baby's diet or in your diet if your baby is breastfed.
  • In approximately 10% of cases the condition may be due to an allergy to certain food groups such as citrus, soybeans, fish, nuts, wheat, eggs, peanuts or milk protein while dust mites, feather pollens and other allergens may be a contributing factor.
  • An eczema rash can also be aggravated by heat as well as changes in temperature.
  • Some babies are susceptible to irritants that come into contact with their skin. These can be chemicals in certain soaps, lotions and detergents.  Wool is another irritant.
  • Dry skin can be a further trigger.

Treatment of Baby Eczema

  • Don't let your baby's skin become dry.  Daily bathing in lukewarm water is helpful if you use a mild soap and shampoo to wash at the end of the session which should not be too long.
  • Immediately pat the skin dry without rubbing before applying plenty of natural moisturiser or emollient to keep the moisture in.
  • Let your baby's skin breathe by using cool natural fabrics such as cotton for both clothing and bed linen.  Avoid wool as this can be scratchy  and irritating to the skin.
  • Use natural fragrance-free detergents for washing your baby's clothes and bed linen and stay away from fabric softeners.
  • Avoid extreme temperature changes for your child.
  • Keep the fingernails cut short and put mittens on so that your child cannot scratch the eczema rash.  Cool compresses to the area for a few minutes at a time will soothe and discourage scratching too. Babies cannot control the urge to scratch and if they do, this can result in bacterial infections, bleeding and major discomfort. Scratching not only disturbs your baby’s sleep but can worsen the itch and cause further inflammation.

The Relationship Between Eczema and Psoriasis

There is a common misconception that eczema and psoriasis are the same conditions. Although they are both non-contagious skin disorders, this is not the case as they have significantly different symptoms and causes.

The Difference Between These Two Conditions

Eczema, also known as dermatitis, is indicated by red flaky skin patches along with breaks in the skin and in severe cases symptoms may result in 'crusted over' lesions. Eczema is usually caused and exacerbated by environmental irritants such as detergents, perfumes or other allergens, whereas psoriasis tends to be passed on genetically. One of the worst aspects for sufferers of eczema is the itching of the skin and consequently, the uncontrollable urge to scratch thus making the patches of affected skin even worse.

Psoriasis (derived from the Greek word 'psoera' "to itch") affects both sexes equally and appears as reddened, rough and itchy skin covered with scaly flakes. In simple terms, psoriasis is actually an acceleration of the replacement processes of the skin. Normal skin cells mature in around twenty days and drop off the body invisibly whereas the cells from a patch of psoriasis complete this process almost ten times as quickly. Common locations for affected areas are the elbows, knees, hands and some outbreaks also affect the scalp. In the worst cases, psoriasis can affect the joints and cause arthritis-like symptoms.

The Difference Between Eczema & Molluscum

Eczema is a skin condition in the form of a nasty rash found on random areas of the body. Anyone can suffer from this condition but the severity can vary from person to person. An Eczema rash can be very itchy for a while but then just when the itching is over, it may in fact get worse. The itching of eczema is the first sign, followed by the skin becoming dry and flaky. If the eczema is on the hands and right under the cuticle of the fingers, large pieces of skin may "chip" off. Eventually, red blisters may appear all over the skin. If scratched, these blisters may water and in turn, may spread the rash even more over the skin. The rash will continue in the same cycle of itching, cracking, blistering, itching, healing, more scratching and then the cycle starts all over again. Eczema may be caused by drastic changes in weather such as moving from hot to cold areas as well as contact with solvents or other allergens.

What is Molluscum Contagiosum?

Molluscum contagiosum is also a skin condition which may look similar to eczema except for one important detail - molluscum has an indent in each blister. Molluscum is extremely contagious whereas eczema can be self inoculated. Molluscum appears in children frequently as it is a strain of the pox virus and, since children have more skin contact than adults, it is passed on between playing youngsters. Molluscum is not dangerous and should not cause any pain but is highly contagious and can spread all over the body leading to a more serious condition.

Where Molluscum and Eczema Meet

This is the problem. When someone has molluscum contagiosum, it is not uncommon to also suffer from eczema. The eczema is itchy and if it occurs in patches along the molluscum, and is scratched, then both conditions can be spread. Eczema is non contagious and it can only be spread in the person's own body. Molluscum is formed from a virus whereas eczema may come and go as it pleases. Both skin rashes will go away over time or with treatment.

Where Molluscum and Eczema Differentiate

As stated before, molluscum is known by its larger blisters with the indented centers. Eczema will have smaller red blisters which can sometimes have white tips like pimples which usually contain a pus-like substance. This is normal. Molluscum is very contagious and spreads just by contact while eczema cannot spread to other people. Eczema causes extreme itchiness and dryness before an infection. Molluscum has dry skin but should not cause an unbearable itch before appearing. While eczema does not leave scarring, if molluscum is bad enough it may leave indented scars not unlike acne scars. Both conditions will eventually clear up on their own but if you are concerned, seek medical advice as many skin conditions can be similar but are very different and one could be more harmful than another.