“Eczema? Eww!” This usual reaction to the word "eczema" is misguided and unnecessary, as a majority of eczema are not contagious, nor are they the result of poor hygiene. To help dispel myths you may have about eczema, read on to learn more about its most common types.

Eczema, or dermatitis, is a general term used for skin conditions that are red, itchy, and irritated.

The most familiar is atopic eczema, or more commonly called skin asthma. People who have atopic eczema usually have a personal, or family, history of atopic disease (which includes bronchial asthma, allergic rhinitis, and skin asthma). Their skin is genetically more easily irritated compared to non-atopic skin. This type of eczema usually starts as itchy dry patches on the cheeks, arms, legs, and body of a baby. As the child grows older, the itchy red areas localize in body folds including the neck, the creases on the arms opposite the elbows, and behind the knees.

Because their skin is highly irritable, people with atopic eczema are advised to "baby" their skin by using only hypoallergenic skin care products, and moisturizing frequently to help tame their skin’s irritability.

Contact eczema is the itchy red rash that develops when it has been exposed to irritating substances such as harsh cleansers and detergents (called irritant contact eczema), or things that your skin have developed an allergy to (called allergic contact eczema). An example of allergic contact eczema is nickel dermatitis, where affected individuals experience skin itching and irritation on the areas exposed to jewelry, belt buckles, or metals on their watch. Other substances that can be a cause of contact eczema include fragrance (in perfume, soaps, lotions); latex (in gloves, rubber slippers); and plants (poison ivy, poison oak).

With this type of eczema, avoidance of the identified trigger is key to avoiding future reactions.

Another cause of itchy red skin is seborrheic eczema. It is most frequently seen on the scalp (called cradle cap in infants and dandruff in adults), but it can also be seen as greasy flaking on red patches of skin on the ears, between your eyebrows, on the sides of your nose, on the chest, and back. Its occurrence may be related to increased oiliness, and possibly an overgrowth of a yeast that is found in normal skin. The cradle cap in babies tends to disappear as they grow older, but seborrheic eczema in adults is recurrent. Seborrheic eczema improves with the use of shampoos that help loosen the flakes and control flake-formation, and medicated creams for affected areas on the face and body.

Nummular eczema (also known as discoid eczema) begins as a collection of red bumps on the skin, usually on the arms and legs, that coalesce to form thick round spots. These spots can develop oozing. The exact cause is unknown, but it is not contagious. Treatment of nummular eczema includes the use of topical anti-eczema medications and moisturizers. This may be a recurrent skin condition.

After reading this, you now know that there are different kinds of itchy red skin, but treatment is available that can help relieve all kinds of eczema. Proper diagnosis and management by a board-certified dermatologist can spell the difference between “eew!” and “whew!”

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