Eczema is perhaps the most well-known among the group of skin conditions classified under Dermatitis. A general term for skin inflammation, dermatitis has many causes ranging from allergic reactions to genetics. Some types are more common in children and some in adults.
Regardless of type, however, dermatitis is a non-contagious, albeit highly uncomfortable, skin condition.
Although varying by type, affected skin areas tend to display some or more of the following traits:
- Dryness and cracks
- Painful skin with stinging or burning
1-Atopic Dermatitis/ Eczema:
This dermatitis flag-bearer is characterized by a red, rough, dry, and itchy rash over areas where the skin flexes (creases), such as inner elbows, knee backs, hands, wrists, feet, ankles and the front of the neck. It is generally an inherited condition that develops in infants, although most outgrow it by school age. The condition occurs periodically in flares and remissions.
Eczema can also be the result of an immune system dysfunction (asthma or previous allergies), naturally dry skin, and inability to adapt to environmental changes.
In children, eczema appears as red, dry and itchy patches along with cheek rashes that ooze and worsen when scratched; whereas adolescent/adult eczema is characterized by dry, scaly, and brownish-gray rashes that may bleed and crust on scratching, and thickened skin with markings.
Contact dermatitis occurs as either a delayed or instant reaction when the body comes in contact with certain substances or allergens, resulting in a red itchy rash over the affected area that may also burn and sting. However, most people do not develop rashes the first time, but rather, with repeated exposure to the allergen.
Some common allergens include poison ivy, oak, nickel jewelry, perfumes, cosmetics, cleaning products, and certain preservatives in creams and lotions. It can affect anyone and is further divided into 3 types:
- Allergic Contact Dermatitis causes dry, scaly, flaky, burning, extremely itchy, and darkened or leathery skin. Sun sensitivity, hives and oozing blisters are also common with the condition; with swelling in the eyes, face, and groin in extreme cases. Fluid from the blisters does not spread rashes to other body parts or people, although the rash itself can spread away from the original site.
- Irritant Contact Dermatitis occurs when the skin comes in repeated contact with toxic substances like battery acid, bleach, drain cleaners, kerosene, detergents, pepper spray, soap, and even water. These substances gradually reduce the protective oily layer over the skin, resulting in dry skin and injury. It causes blistering, cracking, swelling, ulcerations, crust-forming open sores, and stiff or tight skin.
- Photocontact Dermatitis is the least common form of contact dermatitis and causes skin reactions when irritation-causing substances on skin are exposed to direct sunlight.
Defined by scaly, red skin patches and stubborn dandruff, seborrheic dermatitis is caused by a yeast/fungus present in sebum (skin oil). It is a seasonal disorder, i.e. it may worsen during spring and winter, and commonly affects oily and hairy skin areas, particularly the face, back, and upper chest.
In Infants it is known as ‘cradle cap’, and appears as yellowish, greasy, crusty, and scaly patches over the scalp.
Other less common types of dermatitis include:
- Dyshidrotic Dermatitis occurs when the skin is unable to protect itself, resulting in itchy, dry skin with small and deep blisters over the hands and feet.
- Nummular Dermatitis forms oval sores over the affected area after skin injury.
- Stasis Dermatitis is caused by poor blood circulation, resulting in red, scaly, and itchy patches over the feet and lower legs.
- Neurodermatitis results from chronic stress, causing dryness, itching, and coin shaped patches over random skin areas.
While dermatitis can affect anyone, the following factors increase the risk of developing the condition:
- Previous allergies, asthma and hay fever (eczema).
- Congestive heart failure, HIV, and Parkinson’s Disease, and other conditions that weaken the nervous system (seborrheic dermatitis).
- Jobs involving repeated contact with certain metals, solvents, or cleaning agents. Examples include healthcare workers, hairdressers, and bartenders (contact dermatitis).
Dermatitis is easily treatable and is not considered a medical emergency. However, scratching too hard can lead to open sores and infections; a cause for concern especially for people with a weakened immune system. Consult with your doctor if the skin becomes painful or uncomfortable to the point of disrupting sleep and daily routine.
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