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Eczema is a skin condition that causes skin to get dry, itchy and cracked.

Types of eczema

There are several different types of eczema:

  • Atopic eczema The most common type of eczema. Closely linked with allergies and asthma, and often runs in families

  • Dyshidrotic eczema Commonly found on the hands, and characterised by tiny blisters over the skin which are very itchy

  • Contact dermatitis Occurs when the skin comes into contact with a substance that irritates it

  • Seborrhoeic eczema/dermatitis Characteristically found along the eyebrows, scalp line, ears and sides of the nose

  • Discoid eczema Discoid eczema is a patch that forms circular patches on the skin

  • Varicose eczema Eczema that’s usually triggered through problems with blood flow. Commonly found on the lower legs

What are the symptoms of eczema?

Typical eczema symptoms include:

  • Dry, cracked, scaly skin

  • Itching

  • Redness

  • Thickened skin where the rash usually appears

  • Discoloration of the skin

While eczema can occur anywhere on the body, the most common areas are the backs of the knees, inside elbow creases and on the hands. More so in children, it’s also common to get eczema on the face and neck.

Sometimes, eczema rashes may become infected. If this occurs you may develop weeping patches of skin or yellow crust or patches to the eczema. The skin may also become swollen.

What causes eczema?

The exact cause of eczema is not known.

But, the most common form of eczema – atopic eczema – seems to be closely linked to people who also suffer with allergies, asthma or hay fever. Atopic eczema often runs in families too, so there may be a genetic predisposition.

There are many ‘triggers’ for an eczema flare-up. These include:

  • Soaps, household cleansers and laundry detergents

  • Cold weather

  • Stress

  • Certain fabrics (commonly wool and polyester)

  • Fragrances

  • Cigarette smoke

How to treat eczema

Eczema is often a chronic illness. Sometimes children do grow out of eczema, but many adults will have eczema flare-ups throughout their lives. The mainstay of treatment is regular application of emollients (moisturisers). These should be applied liberally and on a daily basis – even when you’re not having a flare-up.

Hands are often ‘problem areas’ because of the number of times a day we need to wash our hands, and the use of soaps or chemicals in cleaning or washing up products. Make sure you use emollients after each time you wash your hands if this is an issue for you.

If emollients alone are not sufficient to control an eczema flare-up, then a topical steroid cream can be trialled. A mild steroid cream can be bought over the counter from a pharmacy, and stronger creams are available with a prescription from a GP.

It’s best to try and prevent an eczema flare-up occuring in the first place, so try to identify your ‘triggers’ so you can avoid them. And make sure to avoid scratching, which will irritate the skin and make any flare-up worse.

When to see a GP

  • If you’re unsure on the diagnosis or type of eczema you may have

  • If emollients are failing to improve an eczema flare-up

  • If your eczema looks infected

  • If your eczema is affecting your daily life

Reviewed by:

Dr Rhianna McClymont

Lead GP, Livi

Last updated: