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Eczema is also known as dermatitis. It is a reaction of the skin characterized by swelling, redness and itchiness. There are many types of eczema. Among them are atopic dermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis, irritant contact dermatitis and seborrheic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis is the most common type of eczema. Eczema is caused by myriad factors, including allergic reactions, skin infections and genetics. Although it may not pose any significant danger and is not contagious, it may cause a significant impact on quality of life.

What causes eczema?

In some forms of eczema, the causes are certain. For example, allergic contact and irritant dermatitis have identifiable triggers. Some of these substances are everyday materials we come into contact with. Rubber from sandals, latex from gloves, nickel in our belt buckle, etc. may cause irritant contact dermatitis. However, in other types of eczema, the cause remains uncertain. A combination of host (the individual) factors and extrinsic factors may combine to produce eczematoid reaction.

How does it appear?

Eczema appears as varied skin lesions, including small rashes to large patches and plaques (elevated patches) on the skin. Severe forms of eczema appear crusted and scaly. Long-standing eczema also appear thickened and scaly (lichenification).

How is eczema diagnosed?

Dermatologists have many ways to determine the cause of a patient’s skin rash. Some of these tests include:

  • Scratch tests, also called prick tests or puncture tests. In these tests, the dermatologist applies test solutions of possible allergens to scratches or shallow punctures on the skin.
  • Intracutaneous tests, in which the physician injects the allergen into the skin, are often necessary when percutaneous tests (on the surface of the skin) are unclear.
  • Patch test, which is not an “immediate-type reaction” test like the percutaneous test. After the dermatologist applies the patch containing samples of allergens to the patient’s back, the patient must come back in 48 hours (and, in some cases, once more after 72 and/or 96 hours) so the dermatologist can see the patient’s reaction to the allergens.

What is the treatment for eczema?

Treatment for eczema will depend on the specific type of eczema you have. However, for all types of eczema, treatment goals will include:

  • Controlling bacterial or fungal infection
  • Decreasing inflammation
  • Removing skin lesions, including scales, crusts and thickened skin
  • Controlling pruritus (itching)

Depending on the type of eczema, topical medications may be applied to the lesions. More severe lesions may need oral or systemic drugs.

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