Reviewed by William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
Take the Eczema Quiz First! Before reading this FAQ, challenge yourself and
Test your Knowledge!
Q:Eczema is a general medical term for many types of skin inflammation. True or False?
A:True. Eczema is a general term for many types of skin inflammation. Inflammation of the skin is also called dermatitis. The most common form of eczema is atopic dermatitis (sometimes these two terms are used interchangeably). However, there are many different forms of eczema.
Q:Eczema has no known cause. True or False?
A:True. While eczema is commonly found in families with a history of other allergies or asthma, the exact cause of eczema is unknown. Eczema is thought to be linked to an overactive response by the body's immune system to an irritant. It is this response that causes the symptoms of eczema.
Q:Is eczema contagious?
A:No. Eczema is not contagious. In other words, it cannot be passed from one person to another.
Q:What are some eczema triggers?
A:Sweat, soap and clothing. Some forms of eczema can be triggered by substances that come in contact with the skin, such as soaps, cosmetics, clothing, detergents, jewelry, or sweat. Substances that cause allergic reactions may also cause outbreaks of eczema. Changes in temperature or humidity, or even psychological stress, can lead to outbreaks of eczema in some people. Eczema can sometimes occur as a brief reaction that only leads to symptoms for a few hours or days, but in other cases, the symptoms persist over a longer time. These cases are referred to as chronic dermatitis.
Q:With eczema, the first symptom is usually what?
A:Itching. Intense itching is generally the first symptom in most people with eczema. Sometimes, eczema can lead to blisters and oozing lesions, but eczema can also result in dry and scaly skin. Repeated scratching can lead to thickened, crusty skin.
Q:Pruritus is the medical term for what?
A:Itching. Pruritus (proo-RYE-tuss) is the medical term for itching.
Q:In children and adults, eczema usually occurs on the scalp first. True or False?
A:False. While any region of the body may be affected by eczema, in children and adults, eczema typically occurs on the face, neck, and the insides of the elbows, knees, and ankles. In infants, eczema typically occurs on the forehead, cheeks, forearms, legs, scalp, and neck.
Q:Eczema is best controlled by good skin care. True or False?
A:True. Good skin care is a key for controlling eczema. Proper care of the skin can often be enough in many milder cases. In treating eczema, most doctors will start patients on basic therapies. A good moisturizing cream, lotion, or ointment helps conserve the skin's natural moisture and should be applied immediately after showering or bathing and one other time each day. Taking oral antihistamines can also help relieve symptoms. Some of these can cause drowsiness, which may be of benefit if nighttime itching is a problem. Doctors also commonly recommend over-the-counter hydrocortisone cream for mild eczema.
Q:Prescription treatments are available for severe eczema. True or False?
A:True. When other measures have failed, doctors may prescribe oral corticosteroid medications. Newer drugs called topical immunomodulators are available to help treat eczema. These drugs help control inflammation and reduce immune system reactions when applied to the skin. For extreme eczema, therapy using ultraviolet light may be prescribed. In adults, drugs that suppress the immune system may also be an option for more severe eczema. Medicines such as cyclosporine, azathioprine, or methotrexate may be used when other treatments have failed.
Q:How is eczema diagnosed?
A:Currently, there is no single test to diagnose atopic dermatitis (eczema). However, there are some tests that can give the doctor an indication of allergic sensitivity. To diagnose eczema, doctors rely on a thorough physical examination of the skin as well as the patient's account of the history of the condition. If a doctor suspects that a patient has allergic contact dermatitis, allergy tests, possibly including a skin "patch test" may be recommended. In some cases, a biopsy of the skin is necessary for a proper diagnosis.
Q:Eczema can mimic other skin diseases and infections. True or False?
A:True. Eczema may have a similar appearance to other diseases of the skin, including infections or reactions to certain medications, which may complicate an accurate diagnosis.
Q:What can irritate skin in people with eczema?
A:Sand. Below is a list of little-known, but common skin irritants in people with eczema: - Wool - Synthetic fibers - Chlorine - Mineral oil - Dust - Sand - Cigarette smoke
Q:The skin itches. Scratching the itch is temporarily satisfying but actually leads to more itching. This describes what?
A:The itch-scratch cycle. Itching usually prompts scratching, which can sometimes lead to a vicious itch-scratch cycle. Scratching can initially feel satisfying, but prolonged scratching just leaves you with irritated skin that can still itch and often worsens the itching itself.
Q:People who have been diagnosed with eczema should avoid what?
A:The current smallpox vaccine. Although scientists are working to develop safer vaccines, individuals diagnosed with atopic dermatitis (or eczema) should not receive the current smallpox vaccine. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), individuals who have ever been diagnosed with atopic dermatitis, even if the condition is mild or not presently active, are more likely to develop a serious complication if they are exposed to the virus from the smallpox vaccine.
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