Eczema (also called dermatitis) is a term used to describe conditions where there is inflammation affecting mainly the outer layer of the skin (the epidermis). There are several different types of eczema, and in some cases the cause is known whilst in others it is not.

For example, eczema can be caused by an allergy to something the skin comes into contact with (allergic contact dermatitis), irritation caused by something the skin comes into contact with (irritant contact dermatitis), or it can something you are born with and linked to the body͛s immune system (atopic eczema).

Seborrhoeic Dermatitis is eczema that affects greasy (sebaceous) skin zones such as the face, scalp and centre of the chest. Dandruff and cradle cap are both types of seborrhoeic dermatitis. Hand dermatitis is also called hand eczema. It is common and can affect about one in every 20 people.It can start in childhood as a result of eczema, but it is most common in working-age adults.. Discoid eczema causes characteristic round or oval red patches of inflamed skin. Discoid eczema is sometimes also called nummular eczema.

Often when people talk about eczema, especially in children, they are referring to atopic eczema. Atopic eczema is a very common skin condition that causes red, dry, itchy patches of skin, often in areas like the elbow creases and backs of the knees. It can start at any age but often it starts in childhood. In fact, one in every five children in the UK is affected by eczema at some stage. It may also start later in life in people who did not have the condition as a child.

The term ‘atopic’ is used to describe a group of conditions, which include asthma, eczema, hay-fever and food allergy. People with one of these disorders often have one or more of the others. These conditions are all linked by an imbalance in the activity of the body͛s immune system – its defence mechanism against infection and disease.

Atopic eczema cannot be cured, but there are many ways of controlling it. As they get older, most children with eczema will see their condition improve, with 60% clear of eczema by their teens. However, many continue to have dry skin and so need to continue to avoid irritants such as drying soaps, detergents and bubble baths.

Atopic eczema may be troublesome for people in certain jobs that involve contact with irritant materials, such as catering, hairdressing, cleaning or healthcare work. In later life, atopic eczema can lead to hand dermatitis and as a result, exposure to irritants and allergens must be avoided both in the home and at work.

There are several effective treatments available which fall under the categories below:

  • Topical treatments, i.e. those that are applied directly to the skin
  • Phototherapy, i.e. light therapy
  • Systemic treatment, i.e. pills taken by mouth
  • Biologic treatments, which are mostly injections under the skin

This is just an overview on eczema, for much more detailed information, including full treatment options and self-care tips, see the relevant eczema type (e.g. Atopic Eczema) in the A-Z list of conditions.

For further information browse the information provided via the links listed below.