Wondering what that itchy red rash is? Eczema is a group of skin conditions that cause skin irritation and a rash-like appearance. The condition can develop in anyone — it affects more than 30 million Americans of all ages — but what it looks like can differ depending on the type of eczema and the person’s skin color.
“Unless you’ve had eczema before, it’s hard to know if the rash you have is a type of eczema or some other condition,” said Dr. Frank Lichtenberger, M.D., Ph.D., medical director at AD RescueWear. “It’s essential to determine if you have eczema before trying over-the-counter treatments that could potentially cause more damage.”
What Do Different Types of Eczema Look Like?
While people refer to eczema as a singular condition, there are actually six different types of the disease with varying symptoms:
This is the type of skin condition most people think of when they refer to eczema. Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema often appearing in babies before their first birthday. If asthma or hay fever runs in your family, you or your child are more likely to develop atopic dermatitis.
Similar to an allergic reaction, in atopic dermatitis, the immune system overreacts to a perceived threat inside or outside of the body.
- Dry, scaly patches on the scalp, face, arms, and legs
- Intense itchiness
- Weeping sores
- Contact dermatitis
Contact dermatitis results from skin responding to an environmental irritant and kicking the immune system into overdrive. The symptoms may be limited to the area of skin that touched the substance. But, contact dermatitis may also spread to other parts of the body, especially if the irritant caused an allergic reaction.
This type of eczema produces small blisters in very specific locations: the edges of fingers, toes, palms and feet. Common triggers include moist hands and feet, stress and allergies. Contact with cobalt, chromium salts and nickel may also cause reactions.
- Itchy blisters
- Scaly, cracked skin
The cause of nummular eczema is unknown, but it tends to run in families. It may be a reaction to insect bites, other skin irritation or dry skin. Nummular eczema has a distinct look: clusters of round spots.
These clusters may be:
- Dry and scaly
- Wet and open
Also known as cradle cap in infants and dandruff in adults, seborrheic dermatitis is commonly found on the scalp. However, it can also appear on the face, upper chest, and back — places that have a lot of oil-producing glands.
Genes, hormones, and yeast (microorganisms that live on the skin) may play a role in creating seborrheic dermatitis symptoms, such as:
- White or yellowish flakes
- Crusty skin
- Stasis dermatitis
The result of poor circulation in the legs, stasis dermatitis happens when fluid leaks out of the veins and into the skin. Women, 50 years and older with conditions that cause decreased circulation such as varicose veins and high blood pressure, are most at risk for this type of eczema.
Stasis dermatitis may cause:
- Ankle swelling
- Patchy redness
- Discolored skin
- Achy legs
- Dry skin
How is Eczema Diagnosed?
It is important to know what kind of eczema you’re dealing with in order to receive proper care. To further complicate matters, you can have more than one type of eczema.
Irritated and damaged skin increases the likelihood of further reactions because the broken skin barrier has already stimulated an immune response.
For example, having atopic dermatitis makes it more likely your skin will negatively respond to contact with commonplace substances like laundry detergent or certain fabrics such as wool, resulting in contact dermatitis.
“The only way to know if you have eczema is to see a licensed medical professional, like your family doctor or a dermatologist. They can identify your skin condition based on symptoms and if necessary, a biopsy,” said Lichtenberger.
What is the Treatment for Eczema?
Treatments for eczema vary depending on condition type. However, the primary goal of treatment for all eczema cases is to calm the skin and relieve the symptoms.
Effective ways to relieve itching
For the most common type of eczema, atopic dermatitis, dry or wet wrapping the affected areas is the most effective way to reduce itching and irritation. The first step for both types of wrapping involves creating a bathing and moisturizing routine that includes over-the-counter or prescription lotions.
After bathing and applying lotions, wrap the affected area in non-irritating fabric such as a specialty medical eczema wrap (a garment made of non-irritating and breathable fabric) or cotton fabric. Dry wrap therapy uses dry fabric to protect the affected area after lotions are applied. For intense cases of itching, wet wrap therapy uses moistened fabric over the affected area to provide extra soothing. (Watch this video on how to do a wet wrap therapy.)
Learn more about eczema treatments on our blog.
NOTE: This content is for informational purposes only and is not intended to serve as a substitute for a consultation, diagnosis and/or medical treatment by a healthcare provider.