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Eczema is an itchy, dry skin condition that can affect people of all ages and can vary in severity. Mild cases see areas of skin change to dry, scaly, itchy and red while more severe cases will experience skin crusting, bleeding and weeping. The itchy skin leads to a constant desire to scratch which can leave it cracked and split and therefore exposed to possible infection. It is important to remember that eczema is not contagious and cannot be ‘caught’ or passed on by contact with a sufferer.
Atopic Eczema is the most common type of this skin condition and refers to a family link, therefore making it sometimes hereditary. This means it is in your genetic make-up and may be passed directly to children or skip a generation or not be passed on at all. The skin’s ability to act as a barrier to the environment doesn’t function as well as those without eczema. This makes it more susceptible to irritants which can leave skin inflamed, dry and itchy.
Contact Dermatitis, or contact eczema, is often referred to as ‘occupational skin disease’ because it is usually linked to chemical irritants in the workplace. It can appear on the face, hands or body and is divided into two types ‘irritant contact dermatitis’ and ‘irritant hand eczema’. It affects around 9% of the UK population and most commonly affects occupations including nurses, cleaners, hairdressers and chefs. Atopic eczema in childhood can make a person more susceptible.
Gravitational eczema can appear later in life and often affects women. Poor circulation, blood clots, obesity and varicose veins can lead to gravitational eczema. The slow movement of blood builds pressure on the vein wall and can lead to fluid pooling in the lower legs and blood leaking through small vessels. The result is dark red or brown patches under skin which can become very thin and fragile. Severe cases can lead to weeping and crusting and to leg ulcers.
Pompholyx eczema forms around 5 to 20% of all hand eczema cases. This blister-inducing type of eczema is restricted to the hands and feet. Although causes are not completely known it is believed they include emotional anxiety, metal compounds, heat and sweating.
Discoid eczema is usually seen in adults with dry skin, cases seen in children are rare. The eczema appears in coin-shaped patches the size of fifty pence pieces. They start as bumps on the lower part of legs, forearms and the trunk of the body. The patches become extremely itchy, may weep and get infected. Previous eczema, certain soaps and detergents are thought to be triggers.
Asteatotic eczema generally affects people over the age of sixty, causes are still unknown but thought to be linked to a reduction in skin’s oil production and over-cleansing which results in a ‘crazy paving’ skin appearance. It is usually found on the legs particularly the shins.
Seborrhoeic eczema generally begins on the scalp as dandruff that develops into a red and irritated scalp. The condition can then spread down to the face and neck with redness and white skin flakes being a common appearance. Skin creases such as sides of the nose and behind ears can be badly affected, and sometimes extended to armpits, under breasts and the groin area. It can affect children under the age of one. Causes are still unclear although the skin of sufferers usually has yeast called pityrosporum ovale present.
Keeping dry, itchy skin hydrated with an emollient will help ease irritation and make skin feel more supple and comfortable. The same treatment is applied to all types of eczema. An emollient is a non-cosmetic moisturiser and can help to prevent skin cracking (see your GP for advice). Avoiding perfumed products including liquid soaps and bubble baths can help as these are very drying for skin and can cause flare ups. Always seek advice from your GP or a registered dermatologist before treating your eczema.