The term ‘eczema’ originates from the Greek language. It means to ‘boil’ or ‘flow out’ and is used to describe a range of skin conditions. It is sometimes diagnosed as dermatitis, which is a general term meaning inflammation of the skin. Different types of eczema include atopic eczema, contact eczema, discoid eczema, seborrhoeic eczema, and varicous eczema.
The condition is also classified in terms of how quickly it appears and how long it remains. If it appears quickly and is severe for a short length of time, it is known as ‘acute,’ and if it appears more slowly and lasts for a long time, it is classified as ‘chronic.’
As the skin is the largest organ of the body, it is important that it functions correctly, and that the pain and discomfort of an eczema sufferer is not underestimated.
Atopic eczema is the most common type of eczema and is characterised by the ‘scratch, itch’ cycle. Around 75% of cases are seen in children under the age of 6 months, but on the plus side, there is a good chance of growing out of it during the teenage years, or sooner.
A sufferer of atopic eczema may have allergies to pollens, detergents, possibly some foods, or it may be inherited from their parent(s). It often affects the inside of knees and elbows, but can appear anywhere on the body. Biological washing powders often cause itching and inflammation of the skin, as does clothing and bedding that are not made from cotton.
This is similar to atopic eczema, in that it is caused by an allergy to a substance such as detergent, or perfume. There are many possible causes of contact eczema and it is very difficult to diagnose the exact cause(s).
In the case of teenage children and adults the doctor may suggest a patch test if the suspected causes are few, for example animal fur, but if the patient has no idea what may be causing the problem, this test may be futile as there are so many possible allergens to test for.
Discoid Eczema is usually seen in adults and has no obvious cause. Rounded patches tend to appear on the upper body and lower legs, which may exude fluid.
The most familiar type of seborrhoeic eczema is ‘cradle cap’ on the scalp of babies. Fortunately, this is not itchy and rarely continues as the child grows older. If this does continue, however, the condition can range from having a slightly flaky scalp to one that is very itchy and scaly. Aswell as the scalp, it may also be found in the folds of the skin, such as under the breasts, or in the groin area.
This type of eczema is often seen in the elderly, as it is caused by poor circulation in the lower legs. It may be classified as ‘chronic’ as it is unlikely to disappear. Varicose eczema can be difficult to manage, as the skin of an elderly person is fragile and prone to breaking, which can result in ulceration of the legs.
This is characterised by blisters on the hands and feet, which are very itchy. They can appear irregularly and, unfortunately, may remain for several weeks. As the blisters heal, and the skin dries out, cracks can appear on the skin that may become infected.
Contrary to many people’s belief, eczema is not contagious, but that does not prevent the sufferer from being self-conscious about their skin. Stress and anxiety are known to make the condition worse, so it becomes a vicious cycle unless it can be managed effectively. If eczema continues into adulthood, it is unlikely to go away completely, so it is important to develop a routine that controls the problem as much as possible.
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