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Eczema: Introduction

Eczema is a chronic skin condition marked by itching, inflammation, redness, and swelling of the skin. Eczema is one type of dermatitis and is a general term that includes a variety of types of eczema, including atopic eczema, allergic contact eczema, dyshidrotic eczema, and seborrheic eczema.

Eczema occurs when skin is more sensitive to certain substances than normal. This often occurs in patches and may appear as rashes that come and go and may disappear altogether. The exact cause of eczema is unknown, but it is linked to allergies and an abnormal response of the immune system. Exposure to triggers, such as stress, allergens, and skin irritants, precipitate a flare-up of eczema in sensitive people.

Eczema is a common condition, affecting about 10 percent to 20 percent of the world's population, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. The appearance, severity, symptoms, and triggers of eczema vary between individuals. Eczema does though frequently occur and reoccur during infancy and childhood and may resolve in adulthood. People who are more likely to develop eczema include those with a personal or family history of allergies, allergic rhinitis or asthma.

Symptoms of eczema can include itching followed by the development of a rash or patch of inflamed skin and more severe itching. For more information on symptoms, refer to symptoms of eczema.

Uncomplicated eczema is generally not a serious condition, but itching and scratching can lead to increased inflammation, open breaks in the skin, and a secondary bacterial infection or fungal infection of the surrounding skin and tissues. This is called cellulitis and can be potentially serious.

A diagnosis of eczema can often be made by taking a thorough health history, including symptoms, and performing a physical exam. For some people, skin patch testing may be performed. In a patch test, small amounts of common allergens are applied methodically to the skin to determine what substances are triggering an allergic response, leading to the eczema.

Because the symptoms of eczema may be similar to other skin conditions, such as psoriasis, hives, or pityriasis rosea, a misdiagnosis is possible. For information on misdiagnosis, refer to misdiagnosis of eczema.

There is currently no cure for eczema, but the condition can be controlled with a good treatment plan individualized to a person's medical history, specific type and severity of eczema, and other factors.

Treatment begins with the prevention of flare-ups. This includes an integrated plan to reduce exposure to irritants and allergens and minimize skin dryness. A variety of topical and oral medications may be prescribed to reduce inflammation and cure secondary infections. Another type of treatment that may be effective for some people with eczema is phototherapy.

A combination of treatments that include lifestyle changes with medications and other treatments as appropriate is the most effective way to best control eczema. For more information on treatment, refer to treatment of eczema....more »

Causes of Eczema

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