What is Eczema?
Eczema is a skin condition caused by inflammation of the skin. It is also called dermatitis. Typically, eczema causes skin to become itchy, red, and dry — even cracked and leathery. Eczema can appear on any part of the body. It is most common in infants, many of whom outgrow it before adulthood. It is not contagious. People with eczema have a higher risk of developing allergic conditions like asthma or hay fever. Eczema is a chronic problem for many people. Over 30 million Americans have some form of eczema.
No one exactly knows what causes eczema. The most common type of eczema, atopic dermatitis, resembles an allergy. But the skin irritation, which is more often seen in children rather than adults, is not an allergic reaction.
The current thinking is that eczema is caused by a combination of factors that include:
- Abnormal function of the immune system
- Activities that may cause skin to be more sensitive
- Defects in the skin barrier that allow moisture-out and germs-in
There are many different treatments that people who live with eczema can use to relieve symptoms, including:
- Over-the-counter remedies such as gentle, non-soap cleansers, petroleum jelly, tar-based products and mineral oil. Use a good moisturizing cream for you skin.
- Medications available only with a prescription from a doctor, such as topical corticosteroids, topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCIs) and systemic oral drugs.
- Phototherapy, which exposes the affected area to light under medical supervision.
- Complementary and alternative therapies, including acupuncture, supplements and stress reduction techniques.