What Exactly is Eczema?

What exactly is Eczema? Simply put, eczema refers to several different conditions that cause skin to become irritated, scaly and rough and itchy. There are several types of eczema, but the most common is atopic eczema, closely associated with allergies.

The most common symptoms of eczema are scaly, dry, itchy patches of skin. Depending on the sufferer’s normal skin color, the affected area may appear red, brown, or lighter or darker than usual. The skin affected by eczema usually seems thicker than unaffected skin, and any area can be affected. Upon visual examination, a doctor can often diagnose eczema. Since the condition is often associated with allergies, many doctors will review family history and usually request that the patient be undergo allergy testing. Blood tests and scraping tests are also used to diagnose eczema.

The most common types of eczema are caused by the body’s overreaction to some irritant. A reaction similar to an allergic reaction occurs, and the body’s immune system responds by fighting the irritant. Eczema occurs when the immune system overreacts, producing irritated, itchy skin. Eczema also reduces the skin’s ability to maintain moisture.

The itching carries a risk of infection, so antihistamines are often prescribed to control the itching and prevent infection. Topical lotions and creams are recommended to keep the skin moist, and hydrocortisone creams are used to reduce the inflammation. Other treatments for more severe cases of eczema include tar treatments, oral steroids and light treatments. Although new prescription drugs have been developed to treat eczema, they have been linked with an increased risk of cancer, and doctors have been warned to prescribe cautiously.

Although it may appear so, eczema is not contagious. The disease has no known cure, but can be managed effectively with prescription medications and topical lotions and creams.

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