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What is eczema?

It is a type of a skin inflammation that appears as red, flaky, scaly patches of dry skin. Eczema is characterized by itching, scaling and burning of the skin. It is usually located on the face, elbows, knees, and arms.

1. People with sensitive skin are more prone to eczema.

2. Eczema can be easily mistaken for seriously dry skin, but it is not as easy to get rid of.

3. Eczema cannot be cured, it can only be controlled.

What can cause eczema?

The following conditions may cause eczema:

1. CONTACT DERMATITIS: Poison Ivy and Poison Oak are included in this group. Following exposure to and contact with poison ivy and poison oak, the patient may develop an allergic reaction resulting in an inflamed, red, scaly and itchy rash. The rash is spread through scratching. Patients can control the itching with oral antihistamines (Benadryl) and topical lotions (Calamine). Some patients may benefit from cool, wet compresses or soaks (Domeboro). A bath of colloidal oatmeal (Aveeno), mixed with 1 cupful per tub of water can provide soothing relief. More persistent cases can be treated with steroid creams (Aristocort) or oral steroid medications (Medrol) after consultation with a physician.

"Jewellery Dermatitis" or "belt buckle dermatitis" is another example of allergic response resulting from contact with certain types of metals (nickel is most common). The backs of watches and belt buckles are frequently made of nickel. Areas of the skin that come into contact with this metal may develop the typical rash.

Treatment involves applying a steroid cream, to the affected area only, several times a day. There are several one-half percent strength hydrocortisone creams available without prescription (Cortaid). Persistent dermatitis may require a stronger topical steroid cream that only your physician or dermatologist can provide. For patients affected with this rash, complete avoidance of the metal will be necessary.

2. IRRITANT ECZEMA: This is most commonly seen in people who have repeatedly exposed themselves to harsh chemicals, cleaners, or soaps. Irritant eczema is also common in health care workers and bartenders who wash their hands several times a day, and who never allow their hands to dry completely. Inflammation then occurs, and the typical rash appears (see above). Treatment is with a steroid cream. Several one-half percent hydrocortisone creams are now available without a prescription (Cortaid). They need to be applied several times a day. Avoiding exposure to the soaps or cleaners causing the problem will be necessary. Affected areas must be kept clean and dry; gloves may be necessary to protect the hands from irritants. Your doctor may prescribe a stronger steroid cream (Aristocort), if the rash persists.

3. SEBORRHEIC DERMATITIS: This is a rash that may be inherited. It is more common in newborns and patients with Parkinson's disease. Seborrhea tends to be flat, red, and flaky, but usually not itchy. It commonly occurs in areas that are high in the oil secreting glands: around the nose, chin, eyebrows, behind the ears, and around the lips. This will usually respond well to a one-half percent hydrocortisone cream (available over the counter). The stronger steroid creams should NOT be used on the face without a doctor's approval. If steroid creams are used around the eyes, regular checkups for glaucoma are recommended. Keep the face clean and dry. Avoid harsh soaps or detergents.

A Dermatologist can help you with the above skin problems.

What can make eczema worse?

1. Heavily perfumed soaps, shampoos and moisturizers.

2. Clothing made of synthetic fabrics that don't allow air to pass freely.

3. Some moisturizers with sensitive ingredients can also make eczema worse.

Also See: Home remedies for eczema

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