It's All Greek to Me

Eczema (pronounced eks-mah) originates from the Greek ekzema, ek (out) and zein (to boil).

Eczema is a skin condition that affects around 10-20% of children and 1-3% of adults depending on where in the world you live.

Despite how widespread the condition is, there is a lot of misunderstanding about what eczema actually is. This article provides a brief overview to help you navigate your way through the many discussions on the topic. Hopefully the information provided here will give some context to the many treatments on offer and help you decide whether they might be appropriate and effective for you.

Eczema on the handCredit: Marek Isalski,

Language is Relevant

Eczema is itself a catch-all term which refers to a number of unrelated conditions that have a similar appearance. It is most often itchy and inflamed but its appearance can change depending on what type it is and what state it is in.

Atopic dermatitis

To many people topic dermatitis is eczema. Atopic dermatitis (also known as atopic eczema) is actually just one form of the condition albeit the most common. This type of eczema affects people who have a hereditary predisposition toward developing a triad of allergic hypersensitivities – atopic dermatitis (one type of eczema), allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and asthma.  If any of these things run in your family let your health provider know because it will assist in their diagnosis of whether this is the particular type of eczema you or your child have.

Because this is the most common childhood eczema, you might also hear it called baby, infant, toddler or children’s eczema.

Contact dermatitis

There are two types of contact dermatitis. One is caused by a substance damaging the skin faster than it can be repaired and is called irritant contact dermatitis.  Think for example of what happens to your hands if you use very strong detergent or chemicals without gloves. The other is caused by an allergic reaction to a substance and is conveniently called allergic contact dermatitis.  A skin reaction after a run in with poison ivy is a classic example of allergic contact dermatitis.

Seborrheic dermatitis

In infants, this type of eczema is often referred to as cradle cap although it can spread across the body and if it affects the diaper area can be mistakenly called diaper rash. In adults it tends to start off as dandruff and can spread to the ears, face and possibly the mid torso area.

Dyshidrotic eczema (pompholyx)

This is a relatively common skin condition which most often affects the hands and less often, the feet. It is very itchy and usually begins with blisters which can progress to thickened patches or cracks in the skin.

Nummular dermatitis (discoid eczema)

This type of eczema involves coin-shaped areas of red skin which can be itchy and weepy. It tends to affect older adults more, particularly men. Women who are affected might get it when they are young adults.

Stasis dermatitis (varicose eczema, gravitational eczema, venous eczema)

This eczema usually occurs when the veins in the legs struggle to circulate the blood properly back to the heart. As a result the blood pools in the legs and over time the skin can turn brown and inflamed.

Neurodermatitis (lichen simplex chronicus)

When nerve endings in the skin become irritated, neurodermatitis can result. The irritation itself is incredibly itchy. Scratching only exacerbates the issue and a cycle of itching and scratching can make the skin rough and thickened.

Eczema craquelé (asteatotic eczema, xerotic eczema, winter itch)

This type of eczema is typified by extremely dry and flaky skin which can also have a cracked appearance. It occurs most often in winter with the change of humidity and indoor heating. Older adults are more prone to this eczema.

There are other forms of the condition but these are the more common.

Other Resources

As someone whose family is affected by eczema I wanted to share this information in the hope that it could assist others trying to determine the best treatment for their condition.

Below are some further resources you may find useful if you want to do more research on this topic. I have one of the books myself and like one of the reviewers, found that there were interesting bits and pieces and some parts that weren’t relevant for my children but it added to my overall education in support of my kiddies treatment. The other books have all received good reviews and ratings and range from very detailed atlases to those more focussed on treatments.

Eczema-Free for Life
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(price as of Jan 2, 2014)