Eczema is a rash characterized by itchy, dry, rough, flaky, inflamed, and irritated skin. These symptoms can flare up, subside, and then flare up again. The skin condition usually affects the arms, behind the knees, or the face. However, it can occur anywhere on the body. In infants, it may be found on the face or on the scalp in cases of cradle cap.
One type of eczema is contact dermatitis. It can arise anywhere an irritant has contact, including the hands, arms, legs, or face.
Eczema is not contagious and tends to become less severe with age.
Like many other medical conditions, the symptoms and severity of eczema vary widely from person to person.
When the Symptoms Occur
Eczema is often a chronic (long-term) disorder. As such, the symptoms of eczema frequently come and go. Over time, you learn what things might trigger or aggravate your symptoms. For many people, certain foods can cause greater inflammation. Some people experience flare-ups only at certain times of year.
For instance, nummular dermatitis often occurs in colder months. Other types of eczema may get worse when the skin is exposed to greater heat and sweat.
The symptoms of eczema vary widely and there is always a risk of infection any time the skin is broken or irritated. Consult with a dermatologist or your doctor to help determine how best to manage your symptoms.
Perhaps the most common symptom of eczema is itching. This often intense itching and the resultant scratching further irritates and inflames the skin. Many treatment options first focus on easing discomfort and controlling the itch. This also helps prevent infection.
Constant scratching can lead to breaks and tears in the skin. It’s through these tiny tears that bacteria and other microorganisms can enter. Infections like this can increase the chance of scarring and sometimes require treatment with antibiotics.
Red or brownish-gray patches are a common sign of eczema. These patches commonly appear inside the elbows, behind the knees, on the face, and on the hands and feet. They can be rough and raised above the surface of the skin, or flat.
Sometimes the patches are circular, about the size of a dime. They can be clustered together. They often heal from the inside out, and may look similar to the ring-like patches common in the fungal infection ringworm.
Small, raised bumps are another common symptom of eczema. Bumps may ooze a clear fluid (called “weeping”) and become crusty after scratching. These bumps can also signal a skin infection brought on by scratching the affected area. Have a physician look at your skin for an evaluation, as certain skin infections require antibiotics to heal properly.
Thickened, scaly, or cracked skin is another sign of eczema. In the case of seborrheic dermatitis, one type of eczema, the scales are white to yellowish, and they tend to form in oily areas of the skin. Thus, these patches are most common in regions like the scalp, the eyebrows, and inside or behind the ears.