What is Eczema and what does it look like

According to the South African Medical Journal (SAMJ), Eczema effects about 8.3% of the South African population. Most of the effected population is in the early childhood age range, but there are some people are suffer repeat flare ups all through life.

Additionally, the SAMJ reports an increase in the prevalence of Eczema in the developing world.

What is Eczema?

Eczema is an itchy skin rash, usually develops in babies and young children, and may continue to flare up in adults. Eczema can range from mild to extreme levels of itch.

What does an Eczema rash look like?

The rash from Eczema is usually very noticeable and appears bright red on light skin, and ash grey on dark skin.
When Eczema develops the skin is usually dry and scaly. Other symptoms include; warm skin, small rough bumps, thick leathery patches, and bumps that leak and crust over.

What parts of the body are effected by Eczema?

Eczema usually appears in a few distinct, and most often where skin bends and folds. Common places for eczema to develop are inside of elbows, behind the knees, back of neck, armpits, crotch, between fingers and toes, and eyelids. Some other areas susceptible to eczema are wrists, forearms, and chest.

What is the root cause of Eczema?

See the below types of Eczema for slight differences. For this question we will focus on the most common form of Eczema, Atopic Dermatitis. Research suggests that some people are genetically predisposed to Eczema. The body produces a protein called Filaggrin which helps protect the outer most layer of the skin. There is a link between people who develop Eczema and a mutation of the gene responsible for producing Filaggrin. Its believed that eczema is caused by a combination of factors. Eczema tends to flare up when when these people have a weaken immune system and are exposed to some form of allergy.
It should be noted the exact cause of eczema is unknown, however the above appears common, and research is ongoing.

Is there a cure for Eczema?

There is no cure for Eczema, however there are treatments for Eczema. Your local Dermatologist might prescribe a corticosteroid cream or ointment. No single treatment is right, many different treatments may need to be trialed to determine the best respond per person. Fortunately most people will have reduced eczema flareups as they age.

Is Eczema contagious?

Eczema is not contagious, however there is strong evidence of genetic links.

What are the different types of Eczema?

There are seven different types of eczema;

Atopic Dermatitis – the most common form of Eczema

Atopic eczema is the most common form of eczema. Often associated with hay fever and asthma.

What does Atopic Eczema look like
Example of Atopic Dermatitis behind the knees

Contact dermatitis

Contact Dermatitis is triggered as a reaction to something that you touch, either a chemical or substance. Common chemicals or substances causing Contact Dermatitis include; detergents, bleach, jewelry, latex, paint, plants, makeup, soaps and perfumes, and solvents.

What Contact Dermatitis looks like
Example of Contact Dermatitis on finger from jewelry

Dyshidrotic eczema

Dyshidrotic Eczema is defined by fluid-filled blisters on your fingers, toes, palms, and soles of your feet.

What is Eczema
Example of Dyshidrotic Eczema on fingers

Hand eczema

Hand Eczema is defined as Eczema that only forms on the hands. This is most common for people that expose their hands to chemicals and solvents for their work. Hairdressers, laundry works, panel beaters, and mechanics are common sufferers of Hand Eczema.

what Hand eczema looks like
Example of Hand Eczema on back of hand


Neurodermatitis is similar to Atopic Dermatitis although the trigger is often thought to be stress related. Neurodermatitis may not need a specific allergy to trigger. It is thought to flare up when a person genetically predisposed to Eczema, is highly stressed.

Example of Neurodermatitis

Nummular Eczema

Nummular is Latin for “coin”. Nummular Eczema appears as small coin shaped and sized inflamed and itchy patches of skin. Nummular Eczema may be triggered from an insect bite or other allergic reaction. It is more common if you have previously experienced other forms of Eczema, such as Atopic Eczema.

What Nummular Eczema looks like on arms and legs
Example of coin shaped Nummular Eczema on arms and legs

Stasis Dermatitis

Stasis Dermatitis is associated with varicose veins. Fluid leaks out of the damaged varicose veins and dry itchy skin develops over the top of the varicose veins. Legs may become swollen, and walking for long periods or long periods of inactivity may contribute.

Stasis Dermatitis over varicose veins
Example of Stasis Dermatitis on leg

What other symptoms are associated with eczema?

Eczema sometimes precedes Asthma and hay fever. More than half of young children with atopic dermatitis develop asthma and hay fever by age 13.

Eczema can lead to increasingly itchy skin. Scratching the Eczema effected skin further inflames the skin making it itchier, with the patient then wanting to scratch more.

Skin infections are often associated with Eczema. Scratching the skin causes open sores and cracks increasing the risk of bacterial skin infection.

Constant itching often causes disrupted sleep. People often report they feel most itchy when relaxing. The need to itch can wake people from deep sleep cause a loss of quality sleep.

How can I prevent Eczema from reoccurring?

To prevent Eczema from reoccurring, you must first understand the type and the likely cause.

If it is caused by a particular fabric such as wool, stop wearing wool.

Perhaps it is associated with your working environment, consider wearing gloves, and keeping hands dry.

Moisturize your skin regularly, 3 to 4 times per day at regular intervals.

Remove all chemicals, detergents including dish washing and laundry, bleaches, solvents perfumes, deodorants, and any scented soaps. Try antibacterial or unscented natural type soaps.

After bathing, pat dry yourself. Vigorous drying can inflame the skin causing you to itch.

Consume non inflamatry foods. Common food allergies apply here, avoid peanuts, milk, soy, wheat, fish, and eggs.

Once the Eczema symptoms disappear reintroduce the above one at a time slowly to help determine your personal Eczema trigger.

Does Eczema go away on its own?

No. Eczema will continue if the cause is not found or the symptom is not treated.

Why does Eczema hurt?

Eczema is a skin reaction where the skin becomes mildly inflamed. The level of skin inflammation caused by Eczema itself does not usually cause much pain. Further problems such as skin infection from excessive itchy and damaging the surface of the skin are usually the source of pain. Prevention is always better than the cure, seeking treatment from the best Dermatologist early, before the skin is damaged, is the best advice to reduce pain.

How can I calm an Eczema flare up?

Firstly find a Dermatologist as quickly as possible.

For immediate relief from Eczema you can try:

  1. Oral antihistamine.
  2. Take a warm bathing.
  3. Use a humidifier to put moisture into the air, at the very least it can help to stop drying out your skin.
  4. Maintain drinking water to keep the body and skin well hydrated.
  5. Wear loose fitting smooth touch clothing.

See above for what may be causing your Eczema, and stop that. I.e. detergents and solvents.

Scratch, it may feel relieving but will just make it worse as soon as you stop scratching.







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