What Is Eczema?

The term eczema covers a variety of skin conditions, including atopic dermatitis, hand dermatitis, irritant or allergic contact dermatitis, nummular dermatitis, and seborrheic dermatitis. It also can be used to refer to any skin condition that causes the skin to become swollen, irritated, red and itchy.

What Causes Eczema?

Some forms of eczema, such as contact dermatitis, can develop after ongoing exposure to a mild irritant such as a detergent or even quick exposure to a strong irritant such as battery acid or ammonia. Also, if a person is allergic to a particular substance and comes in contact with that, contact dermatitis can result. Common examples of such an allergen would be poison ivy or nickel (found in everything from jewelry to buttons).

Experts haven’t been able to point to one specific cause for other types of eczema, such as atopic dermatitis. It seems to develop due to a combination of factors such as genetics, having an overactive immune system, and something that dermatologists refer to as a “barrier defect,” which allows moisture to evaporate too quickly out of the skin while providing no protection from germs and irritants.

There is evidence to suggest what common sense would tell us anyway, and that is that a tired, stressed, under-nourished body is more susceptible to an eczema breakout. Also, if the are food allergies that are not being addressed, such as those to wheat or gluten, a person’s body will have a harder time keeping skin healthy.

Do You Have Eczema?

Your doctor and/or a dermatologist will take a complete medical history and run some tests that should help diagnose your condition. Your dermatologist may order a “patch test,” which will test you for substances you may be allergic to.