Determining if you have eczema or dermatitis can be difficult because the two terms are often used interchangeably. Yet, they are not completely interchangeable. For example, eczema is a broad term used to describe multiple types of skin conditions. Usually, those skin conditions include specific symptoms, such as red rashes and itchiness. Dermatitis is a subset of disorders that are each a type of eczema.
An additional complication of diagnosing eczema or dermatitis is that certain types of disorders have two names. For example, atopic dermatitis is often called eczema, but there are also many other disorders in the eczema family. Similarly, stasis dermatitis is also known as gravitational or varicose eczema. To better understand the differences between types of dermatitis and eczema, you must familiarize yourself with their specific symptoms. Then, you can work with your doctor to figure out which type you may have. Some of the most common forms of dermatitis and eczema are described below.
Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)
Atopic dermatitis is the disease you may think of when you think of eczema. You are most likely to have atopic dermatitis if your red, itchy skin condition developed during childhood. It is a condition that typically continues for several years, most often during adolescence.
However, you experience periods when it appears to subside. Those periods may last for weeks or months, typically. Years of symptom remission are also possible but less common. While your atopic dermatitis is flaring up, symptoms you may have can include:
- Raised red bumps that may become crusted or ooze when scratched.
- Frequent itchiness, often increasing at night.
- Sensitive, swollen or raw skin.
- Scaly, thick or cracked skin.
- Discolored patches of skin, usually in shades of brown or red.
If you have hay fever or asthma, then the likelihood of developing atopic dermatitis may increase. A family history of atopic dermatitis or other types of eczema can also make you more prone to developing it. Some research has linked it to hay fever or allergies as well.
When you have atopic dermatitis, your doctor may recommend treating it with moisturizing lotions. You must also avoid potential triggers of flare-ups, such as certain soaps or shampoos.
Contact Dermatitis and Irritant Hand Dermatitis
Contact dermatitis and irritant hand dermatitis are not the same as atopic dermatitis. However, if you have atopic dermatitis, then you can also have contact or irritant hand dermatitis. The conditions are often present at the same time and tend to exacerbate each other.
Irritant hand dermatitis and contact dermatitis are not called eczema. However, they are conditions that fall in the large category of skin irritant conditions in the eczema family.
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Contact dermatitis is caused when your skin comes in contact with a substance to which you are allergic. The result is a rash that may be quite itchy. The rash is not contagious or dangerous when it appears on most parts of your body, but if you experience pain, then it is important to get it medically treated.
Also, it can be more serious if it appears on your genitals or face and requires immediate attention. Your doctor may be able to help you identify the allergen causing your contact dermatitis. You may also have some success preventing flare-ups if you avoid common allergens like:
- Detergent and bleach.
- Pesticides and chemicals.
- Rubbing alcohol and solvents.
- Airborne allergens like sawdust.
Irritant hand dermatitis is like contact dermatitis, but you are most prone to it if your job requires constant exposure of your hands to water or allergens. For example, if you wash dishes for a living, then you may develop it on your hands. Constant exposure to detergents or soaps can also trigger the condition. Wear gloves to reduce your exposure to such materials.
Another disorder in the eczema family is nummular eczema. The word “nummular” means “coin like” in Latin. The name is derived from the physical appearance of nummular eczema. If you have it, then the condition is obvious because it causes coin-shaped patches of discolored skin. Specific symptoms of nummular eczema include:
- Lesions typically first appearing on your legs or arms.
- Additional coin-shaped patches appearing on your torso as the disease progresses.
- Crusty or oozing skin in the areas where discoloration or scaly skin is present.
Even though the symptoms of nummular eczema are different from many other forms of eczema, they are not completely unique. Your doctor may use a skin biopsy to confirm your diagnosis. If you have nummular eczema, then cortisone cream and other ointments can relieve some of your symptoms.
Your skin may also benefit from additional moisture. You can moisturize it using wet wrap regimens. Using a humidifier in your home may also help to reduce nummular eczema outbreaks.
There is no permanent cure for the condition, so you must work closely with your doctor to manage it. He or she may suggest periodic changes in your treatment plan as you get older or if the severity of your symptoms changes.
Seborrheic dermatitis is also known as seborrhea. In infants, it is called cradle cap. It causes a red, itchy rash. When you scratch it, your skin flakes off. The resulting flakes are known as dandruff.
Seborrheic dermatitis often occurs in infants, but you can also have it as an adult. Your scalp may be most affected, but you can have patches of it on other parts of your body. It is most prevalent where oil glands are present. Those glands produce too much of a substance called sebum when you have seborrheic dermatitis. The excess sebum leads to crusty or scaly skin in the affected area.
There are several factors thought to contribute to the seborrheic dermatitis. For example, cold weather may cause your symptoms to flare up. Symptoms can also be triggered by certain medications or illnesses, such as acne and rosacea. Stress, including stress disorders, can also make the dermatitis worse.
Additionally, your symptoms may worsen if you do not take proper care of your skin. Regardless of causes, the most common treatment for seborrheic dermatitis is to use a dandruff shampoo if it is on your scalp. On other parts of your body, use of corticosteroid lotions may reduce symptoms.
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