Eczema is a group of skin conditions characterized by red, itchy and inflamed skin. There are several types of eczema including contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, stasis dermatitis, nummular eczema, seborrheic dermatitis, and the most common, atopic dermatitis. It is possible to have more than one type of eczema at once.

The background

The word “eczema” is derived from the Greek word “ekzein” meaning “to boil over.” It is an apt description for the red, itchy patches of inflammation that drive us nuts, and can be a serious, life-changing disease for millions.

“Because it’s a skin disease, people may not understand how the disease can take hold of people’s lives personally, socially and professionally," says Julie Block, president and CEO of the National Eczema Association. "Research reveals this form of eczema goes well beyond what you see on the skin. Chronic inflammation, symptoms such as unbearable itch, being severely allergic to the world around you – these all profoundly affect the quality of life of people with AD."

The myths

Eczema is not contagious. You can’t “catch it” from someone else. Though the exact cause of eczema is unknown, researchers continue to uncover more about the underlying mechanisms causing it. People develop eczema from a combination of genes and triggers. People with eczema, particularly atopic dermatitis, tend to have an over-reactive immune system that, when triggered, responds by producing inflammation. It is this inflammation that causes the red, itchy and painful skin symptoms common to eczema.

“Because it’s a skin disease, people may not understand how the disease can take hold of people’s lives personally, socially and professionally."

Management

There is no cure for eczema, but there are treatments, and more are being developed. Depending on the type, severity and location of the eczema, treatments may include lifestyle changes, over-the-counter remedies, prescription topical, oral and injectable medications, phototherapy and biologic drugs.

Eczema can be an unpredictable disease. People often find that even when they do all the “right” things, such as avoiding triggers or moisturizing regularly, their eczema still flares. An “out of the blue” flare is common.