Eczema, also known as dermatitis, is a very common skin problem in the UK and probably the most well-known. It is estimated that up to 15 million people could be living with the condition. One in five children in the country will be affected by eczema during some stage of their childhood and up to one in ten will continue to experience symptoms into adulthood.
Despite being so widespread, there are still many misconceptions around the condition. Our experienced dermatologist, Dr Christos Kasparis explains what eczema is, the different variations of the condition that exist and busts some of these myths.
What is eczema?
“Simply put, eczema is an increased sensitivity of the skin which is usually determined by genetic factors. The skin will react in response to various triggers including environmental factors (i.e dust , pollen, temperature variations) and internal factors such as stress. It then becomes itchy, red and sometimes sore and it tends to be dry.”
How many different types of eczema are there?
“There are seven main types of eczema that we come across at the medical practice. These are:
- Atopic eczema – the immune system on the skin is hypersensitive and over-reacts to environmental triggers such as pollen, dust and variations in temperature.
- Seborrheic eczema – caused by common living yeast on the skin which leads to itchy red scalp and dandruff, as well as a rash on the face that comes and goes.
- Venous eczema – due to problems in circulation such as varicose veins, usually seen after the age of 60.
- Contact eczema– due to contact with materials that may either irritate or cause an allergic reaction to the skin. A common culprit is nickel found in costume jewellery and belt buckles.
- Pompholyx eczema– affects the hands and feet, it comes up as itchy small blisters that come and go and can lead to skin infections if not treated.
- Asteatotic eczema– this one is due to severe loss of water from the skin seen more commonly in elderly patients.
- Discoid eczema– it can affect any age from infants to the elderly, it presents itself in round extremely itchy patches.”
Which one is most common?
“The commonest type is atopic eczema. Atopic means sensitive to allergies, so people who suffer from this type are also prone to other allergic conditions , such as hay fever or asthma.”
What are the main symptoms?
“Intense itching is the main symptom, but eczema can also lead to loss of sleep, affect concentration and have a major impact on the person’s self-esteem and self-confidence, especially if the affected skin is somewhere that is very visible, like the face. Many suffers say it causes them considerable distress and that it has an adverse effect on their personal and social lives.”
Is there a cure?
“There is no cure, but many children who suffer from atopic eczema find their symptoms can naturally improve as they get older. However, there is always a tendency for the eczema to return in later life, particularly at times of increased stress.”
Is there a link between eczema and food allergies?
“There is a common assumption that diet does affect eczema, but in most cases, there is no link between the two. As a result, food allergy testing will not help most eczema sufferers discover how to treat their skin condition. However, some people do have both eczema and other allergies which may be related to their eczema. For these patients, a thorough assessment can determine what they may be allergic to and what type of testing will be most useful for them.”
Is there a time a year when eczema tends to get worse?
“Yes, many sufferers tend to find the condition flares up in the cold winter months. Experiencing a rapid change in temperature from the freezing outdoors to warm, centrally heated cars and buildings can aggravate the skin. Taking long, hot baths can have the same impact. Also, the clothes we wear in the winter, like scratching woollen jumpers, can causing increased irritation. So try to maintain as even a temperature as possible and opt for cotton clothing which helps to keep a layer of moist air next to the skin.”
Is eczema contagious?
“No, eczema itself is not contagious. However, if raw and irritated skin gets infected that infection could be passed on to someone else.”
At what age does eczema appear?
“There is no set time for it to begin. Some children develop it while they are still babies, while for others it appears later and for some, not until they reach adulthood. We are not clear on why this happens, but no matter what age a person develops it, there are treatments available to help ease the symptoms.”
If you would like expert advice on how to treat your eczema effectively, book an appointment with Dr Christos Kasparis, who has a wealth of experience of successfully working with patients to end the misery this condition can cause.
 Figure based on population figures from ONS and data on the prevalence of eczema in the general population
 British Skin Foundation