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Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)?

by Marcie Cook Licensed Aesthetician 

Atopic dermatitis, commonly referred to as eczema is a chronic skin disorder that is categorized by scaly and itching rashes. People with eczema often have a family history of allergic conditions like asthma, hay fever, or eczema. The 3 main types of dermatitis--atopic, contact allergy and contact irritant-- have different causes. While it is not agreed on about the cause of atopic dermatitis, there is a general agreement that it is a genetic disorder that is influenced by environmental factors.

Eczema is most common in infants, and at least half of those cases clear by age 36 months. In adults it is generally a chronic or recurring condition. A hypersensitivity reaction occurs in the skin, which causes chronic inflammation. The inflammation causes the skin to become itchy and scaly, which if scratched chronically can cause the skin to thicken and have a leathery-texture. Decreased humidity, & very high or very low outside are just some of the environmental factors that can worsen symptoms, as can dryness of the skin, & exposure to water. On a individual basis stress, excessive sweating, & anxiety can cause dermatitis.

Some symptoms to look for include:

  • Intense itching

  • Blisters with oozing & crusting

  • Skin redness or inflammation around the blisters

  • Rash

  • Dry, leathery skin areas

  • Ear discharges/ bleeding

  • Raw areas of skin from scratching

  • Located commonly in the inner elbow or behind the knee

  • May spread to the neck, hands, feet, or eyelids

  • Skin abnormally dark or abnormally light

  • In children under 2 years old, skin lesions begin on the cheeks, elbows, or knees

  • In adults the rash more commonly involves the inside surface of the knees and elbows

Visible dermatitis on the face is generally caused by cosmetics, perfumes, soaps, spectacle frames, and nickel in earrings. On the scalp it is caused by hair dyes, lotions, and tonics containing Balsam of Peru. Nickel in jewelry worn around the neck, wrist or hands can cause the same reaction. On the body it can be caused by rubber material used in underwear. On the feet dyes used in socks can cause dermatitis.

Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when a highly reactive chemical substance comes into direct contact with the skin. The skin reaction can occur days after the initial exposure you will notice the site of contact become irritated it only takes a very minute quantity to become irritated.

Irritant contact dermatitis can potentially occur in anyone. The skin erupts when it encounters certain irritants, such as chemicals that directly damage the superficial layer of the skin. With people who have constantly wet hands the damage occurs more readily. Some common skin irritants are soaps, detergents, disinfectants cleaning chemicals, shampoos, dyes, and cutting oils. Contact dermatitis can be job related; hairdressers, cooks, caterers, dishwashers, machine-tool operators, nurses and homemakers are all at risk.

Diagnosis is primarily based on the appearance of the skin and on personal and family history. If you notice lesions contact a health care provider. These lesions should be examined to rule out other possibilities. A skin biopsy may be performed, but is not always required to make a diagnosis. After a diagnosis together you and your health care provider can agree on the proper treatment.

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