General Information

PART 2: GENERAL INFORMATION 

2.1 What is eczema? 

“Eczema” is used to describe a variety of conditions where the skin becomes red, dry and itchy. The different types of eczema are described in section 2.3.

2.2 What is the difference between eczema and dermatitis? 

At one time “dermatitis” was used to describe a skin condition brought on by external factors such as contact with an irritant whereas “eczema” was used to describe a skin condition whose cause was thought to be internal.

However, it is not always possible to make such a distinction and the two terms are now used interchangeably. One doctor may refer to eczema and another to dermatitis; what is more important is what type of eczema or dermatitis is involved. 

In this file the term “eczema” is used in most places but you may substitute the word “dermatitis”. 

2.3 What different sorts of eczema are there? 

The most common types of eczema are: 

    * Atopic eczema 
    * Adult seborrhoeic eczema 
    * Infantile seborrhoeic eczema 
    * Allergic contact dermatitis 
    * Irritant contact dermatitis 

2.3.1 Atopic eczema 

This is related to hay fever (allergic rhinitis) and asthma. People who have one of these three complaints will often have two or more. 

It is thought to be hereditary in nature. If you have a family history of atopia (hay fever, asthma or eczema) then there is an increased risk of you or your children developing one or more of these complaints. 

This is sometimes referred to as “AD” for “Atopic Dermatitis”. 

2.3.2 Adult seborrhoeic eczema 

This occurs in adults and usually affects the scalp and head. The skin becomes very dry, red and flaky. 

2.3.3 Infantile seborrhoeic eczema 

This occurs in infants and usually clears up with a few months. It is not hereditary. 

2.3.4 Allergic contact dermatitis 

This occurs when the skin comes in contact to a substance to which the subject is allergic. 

2.3.5 Irritant contact dermatitis 

This occurs when the skin comes in contact with an irritant, such as detergent. 

2.4 Is eczema contagious or infectious? 

No. 

2.5 What causes eczema? Is it an allergy? 

The causes of all types of eczema are not fully understood. Some types of eczema are thought by some to be as a result of a disorder of the immune system. See section 2.3 for a description of various types of eczema and their causes. 

2.6 If I have eczema will my children get it also? 

If you have a family history of atopia (hay fever, asthma or eczema) then there is an increased risk of your children developing one or more of these complaints. 

2.7 Do people grow out of eczema or get cured? 

This depends on the type of eczema. Babies grow out of infantile seborrhoeic eczema. Irritant eczema will usually subside when exposure to the irritant is discontinued. 

Other types of eczema can last for many years, or for life, and there is no cure although there is much that can be done to manage the condition. Each person has to find the treatment and lifestyle which work best for them. 

2.8 What is the relationship between eczema, asthma and hay fever? 

See section 2.3.1.

2.9 What complications can arise? 

The most common complication is infection of the affected areas. Treatment is by application of antibiotic cream or lotion or by oral antibiotic. 

The risk of infection can be reduced by keeping the skin and hands clean, by preventing the skin from drying out so as to avoid itching and scratching, and by bathing with a medicated bath oil.