Eczema, also known as dermatitis, is a term used to describe skin conditions that are characterised by irritation or inflammation of the skin. Eczema is the commnonest itchy rash in childhood.
There are two main categories of eczema. Contact eczema (exogenous eczema) occurs when substances or chemicals cause irritation that leads to an allergic reaction in the skin. "Constitutional" eczema (endogenous eczema), happens when there is a genetic, or inherited, tendency to develop the condition.
Often the cause of the eczema is unknown, or there may be a number of different factors all working together. Eczema often runs in families, but it is not spread from one person to another.
Chemicals, detergents, soap or shampoo can all irritate the skin. Some substances may not be irritants but if the skin becomes sensitised – or allergic – to them they may cause a reaction.
There are various types of eczema, with slightly different causes and symptoms.
- atopic eczema – This is the most common form of eczema. Atopy is the term that describes a family predisposition to a variety of allergic conditions, including asthma, hay fever and eczema. Atopic eczema usually affects the face, trunk, the backs of the knees and the front of the elbows. It usually starts in childhood, affecting 15-20% of children. Most grow out of the condition by adulthood, but it continues in 2-3% of adults.
- allergic contact eczema – this develops when the body's immune system reacts against a substance in contact with the skin. The rash usually starts at the site of contact with the substance but may then spread to other areas. For example, the nickel found in some jewellery may cause eczema on the ear lobes, wrists, and around the neck. Other causes of this type of eczema include rubber or perfume.
- irritant contact eczema – this is caused by frequent contact with everyday substances such as detergents in soaps or shampoos. The hands are most commonly affected.
- seborrhoeic eczema – this is less common. The rash is greasy and affects the scalp, face, armpits, groin and skin below the breasts. Some specialists think that a yeast known as pityrosporum may cause this condition. One form of the condition affects babies' scalps and is known as "cradle cap".
- varicose eczema – this occurs on the lower legs and is associated with varicose veins and related problems with circulation. The skin, often around the ankles, become scaly, itchy and inflamed.
- discoid eczema – this affects the arms and legs, usually in middle-aged men. The eczema occurs in numerous round patches.
This information was published by Bupa Group's Health Content Team and has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. To the best of their knowledge the information is current and based on reputable sources of medical evidence, however Bupa (Asia) Limited makes no representation or warranty as to the completeness or accuracy of the Content.
The information on this page, and any information on third party websites referred to on this page, is provided as a guide only. It should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional medical advice, nor is it intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment. Bupa (Asia) Limited is not liable for any loss or damage you suffer arising out of the use of, or reliance on, the information.
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