The word eczema is derived from a Greek term and its meaning can be interpreted as “to boil.” Eczema or atopic dermatitis as it is also known is an inflammatory condition of the skin, which makes its origin quite apt, since the patients may feel a boiling sensation if they contract this disease. It is essentially a change in the foremost layer of the skin which involves redness, blistering, scaling, and thickening, although not all of the above transpire contemporaneously.
The label atopic is used to depict conditions such as eczema, asthma, and rhinitis, all of which may have a genetic basis. This condition typically manifests in the first few weeks post birth. That makes it a common occurrence in children since at least 10% of infants develop the ailment at some stage. There are seldom cases where eczema may develop in adults as well.
Forms of Eczema
There are several variations of eczema and we will highlight some of the most prevalent types below.
First and foremost, we will focus on the most frequent archetype i.e. atopic dermatitis. Signs of this affliction generally appear in childhood and also get milder or completely subside as the patient ages. Dermatologists refer to atopic dermatitis as part of the atopic triad, which means it is one of three diseases, the other two being asthma and hay fever. The triumvirate is likely to affect patients simultaneously.
Rashes usually form in the creases of an individual’s elbows or knees and the affected skin is likely to change color and become thicker as well. If the eczema stains are scratched profusely, they may discharge fluid also. Infants usually get rashes on their scalp and cheeks. Atopic dermatitis happens when the skin’s natural fortification against elements such as irritants and allergens is depleted. This allows the aforementioned unwarranted agents to wreak havoc.
As the name suggests, contact dermatitis is caused by being exposed to substances that incite a reaction where the skin may aggravate and turn red. This form of eczema is divided into two main categories namely allergic contact dermatitis, which is an immune system reaction to irritants like metal and irritant contact dermatitis, which begins when agents like chemicals provoke the skin.
The patient’s skin generally turns red and stings considerably as well. Itchy bumps called hives may develop on the surface of the skin and so can blisters which might discharge fluids if grazed. If the illness is not treated, the patient’s skin may also thicken over time and feel scaly.
Dyshidrotic eczema involves the nativity of small blisters on the patient’s hands and feet. It generally affects women more than men. Also, the condition can be gauged by the presence of blisters that develop on the individual’s fingers, toes, palms and the soles of their feet as well. Another attribute of these cysts is that they itch significantly.
Another title that is self-explanatory is hand eczema. The patient’s hands are the solitary part that is affected by this particular sickness. People who are employed in jobs like hairdressing and cleaning are more likely to catch hand eczema than the general public, since their hands may be subjected to products and chemicals that adversely affect their skin. Hand eczema is typified by red, itchy hand and cracks also.
The fifth type of eczema is similar to atopic dermatitis. It causes the patient to develop dense and rough patches on their skin. These thick spots may appear on their arms, legs, nape, scalp, soles, and genitals as well. In a nutshell, neurodermatitis can cover almost all parts of the body. Besides, the affected skin is highly susceptible to episodes of itching, especially when the individual is composed or even asleep. Also, if patients respond to the itching by scratching the spots, it may bleed or worse, get infected.
Nummular eczema is distinguished by the round spots that appear on the skin. These blemishes resemble coins, which is what nummular means in Latin. Besides the different appearance, nummular eczema also involves severe itching.
The final classification of eczema is called stasis dermatitis. This transpires when there is a fluid discharge out of weaker veins into the patient’s skin. The fluid incites swelling, redness, and discomfort. In stasis dermatitis, the lower part of the legs may be inflamed, particularly when the patient is ambulatory during the day. As a result, the legs may feel heavy or ache considerably. A side effect of stasis dermatitis is that those affected may also develop varicose veins, which are damaged veins that appear blue when they are severed. The skin above the broken veins becomes considerably dry.
Naturally, there are instances where a bout of atopic eczema may flare up and cause further irritation. There are several determinants in the environment a patient inhabits that can cause negative reactions. These include exposure to heat and dust for example. Coming in direct contact with agents that irritate the skin, like a specific soap or detergent may incite an episode of eczema as well.
If the patient is already suffering from another ailment, even if it is minor like a common cold, it may end up making matter worse if they also suffer from an eczema attack. The latter is likely to flare up if the former is active.
Infections that are induced by the presence of bacteria or viruses can also create complexities. If the patient is subjected to the bacteria called Staphylococcus, which is an infection, then their skin may turn yellow and crusty. Likewise, cold sores or herpes simplex virus can cause eczema to flare and disseminate on to other parts of the body. Lastly, dryness and stress have also been known to agitate eczema cases.
An eczema examination starts with the dermatologist, who is a skin specialist, analyzing the patient’s skin for symptoms. If they assume that the condition is active and bound to spread, they may conduct a patch test to corroborate its presence beyond a reasonable doubt.
The test involves patches that contain allergens being placed on the patient’s back. They are placed there for 48 hours before they can be removed. Once that happens, dermatologists are able to ascertain if there are signs of an allergic reaction.
In some cases, a biopsy may be carried out. This usually happens when specialists are not content with the outcome of a patch test. A skin lesion biopsy is scheduled to ensure that any health condition is not causing eczema. This procedure usually involves displacing a sample of the affected skin and sending it to the laboratory for conclusive trials.
Eczema is not considered a dangerous disease, although the patient may be uncomfortable while they have it, but it can get worse with repeated scratching. There are several medications that provide aid and relief for eczema patients. For instance, there are multiple creams that control itching and help restore the skin to a state of normalcy. A corticosteroid cream may be prescribed by dermatologists. Calcineurin inhibitors may also be used by patients to minimize itching. These ointments must be applied after moisturizing the skin.
Moreover, specialists may also ask patients to consume oral antibiotics for a few days to treat the infection. In cases of extraordinary severity, doctors will prescribe oral corticosteroids such as prednisone for short-term use.