Generally, the words “eczema” and “dermatitis” are used interchangeably, although certain conditions are more often referred to as one or the other.
Although the terms “dermatitis” and “eczema” may overlap in how they’re used, specific types of skin conditions are better known by just one of the names. For example, many doctors use the terms “atopic dermatitis” and “eczema” interchangeably but wouldn’t use the term “contact dermatitis” in place of “eczema.”
There are also a number of distinct types of eczema and dermatitis, and, to complicate matters, it’s possible to have more than one type at the same time.
While both eczema and dermatitis typically cause redness and itching, some types also cause blistering and peeling.
Atopic dermatitis or eczema
Atopic dermatitis is a chronic condition that requires symptom management. It’s characterized by an itchy, red rash that usually appears at joints in your body, such as knees or elbows, and even around the neck.
This condition occurs in flare-ups or bouts, meaning that it gets worse and improves in irregular cycles. Symptoms include:
Contact dermatitis occurs when your skin has a reaction to something it’s come in contact with. This can include bleach, soap, poison ivy, certain metals, or other irritants. The rash is typically red and may itch or burn. Symptoms include:
- red rash
- blisters with liquid
Seborrheic dermatitis commonly affects areas where hair is growing or oils are produced. These are areas where sebum is secreted. This dermatitis has a scaly, dry appearance and may be caused by a reaction to the yeast in your skin.
- scaly patches
- red skin
- rash located in oily areas
Seborrheic dermatitis is also known as seborrheic eczema, seborrhea, cradle cap, sebopsoriasis, and pityriasis capitis.
Other types of eczema
There are several other types of eczema:
- dyshidrotic eczema
- nummular eczema
- follicular eczema
- stasis dermatitis (varicose eczema, gravitational eczema)
- hand eczema
- dermatitis herpetiformis
- pompholyx eczema
- discoid eczema
- perioral dermatitis
- asteatotic eczema (eczema cracquelée)
To determine what type of eczema you have, make an appointment with your doctor. Following your diagnosis, your doctor will provide a plan for treatment and management.
Most forms of dermatitis and eczema are chronic conditions. One exception is contact dermatitis. It can be prevented by finding and avoiding the irritant that caused the skin condition.
Other forms of dermatitis can usually be avoided or managed with proper self-care, which includes the following:
- Avoid long showers or baths, which can dry out the skin.
- Use moisturizers such as oils, lotions, or creams.
- Avoid irritants that make your skin more susceptible to breakouts.
- Don’t scrub your skin too hard.
- Use topical steroids to help with itching.
- Keep your fingernails short if you have a habit of scratching.
- Avoid stressful situations that may cause a flare-up.
Establishing a skin care routine can help you manage your atopic dermatitis or eczema symptoms. A doctor can help you come up with a regimen that works for you. You should also take note of things that may have caused your breakouts.
Usually minor cases of dermatitis can be resolved with self-care, but if your symptoms don’t improve, you should visit a dermatologist to determine the best course of action for symptom management of eczema or dermatitis.
If your skin becomes painful, infected, or very uncomfortable, you should make a doctor’s appointment as soon as possible.
“Eczema” and “dermatitis” are both generic terms for “skin inflammation” and are often used interchangeably.
There are a number of types of eczema and dermatitis that have different causes and symptoms, but most can be managed with a good skin care regimen and by avoiding irritants that cause flare-ups.
If you’re experiencing extremely irritating or painful skin, you should visit a dermatologist as you may have a skin infection or an underlying condition.