Eczema is a skin condition caused by inflammation. Atopic dermatitis is the most common of the many types of eczema. While the word "dermatitis" means inflammation of the skin, "atopic" refers to an allergic tendency, which is often inherited.
Those with atopic eczema have a higher risk of developing other allergic conditions (like asthma or hayfever).
Typically, eczema causes skin to become itchy, red, and dry -- even cracked and leathery. Eczema most frequently appears on the face and extremities, but it can show up in other areas, too.
Eczema is a chronic problem for many people. It is most common among infants, many of whom outgrow it before school age.
What are the symptoms of eczema?
Almost always, there's an itch before a rash appears in eczema. Typically, eczema shows itself as:
- Patches of chronically itchy, dry, thickened skin, usually on the hands, arms, neck, face and legs. In children, the inner creases of the knees and elbows are often involved.
- Sores with crusts, caused by scratching.
Seek medical advice if:
- You develop an otherwise unexplained rash and have a family history of eczema or asthma. You should have a medical diagnosis of the condition.
- The inflammation does not respond to treatment with emollient lotions and creams. A doctor may suggest prescription medicines.
- You develop yellowish to light brown crust or pus-filled blisters over existing patches of eczema. This may indicate a bacterial infection that should be treated with an antibiotic.
- During a flare-up of eczema, you are exposed to anyone with a viral skin disease such as cold sores or genital herpes. Having eczema puts you at increased risk of contracting the viral disorder.
- You develop numerous small, fluid-filled blisters in the areas of eczema. You may have eczema herpeticum, a rare but potentially serious complication caused by the herpes simplex virus.