Eczema: Top four most Googled questions answered

Dr Afrina Alam, Consultant Dermatologist, answers some questions about this common skin complaint.

Eczema is a health condition which the majority of us are likely to have heard of, but with so many different types, and different triggers for the condition, it can be a more troublesome and complicated condition than you might think.

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What is eczema and what does it look like?

Eczema is a condition which causes redness, itching, flaking or cracking of the skin and can have many causes. It could be that you are allergic to a product, food item or even sunlight, or it could be the case that repeated washing or the clothing that you wear could have an impact. It can be triggered by so many things and can cause a huge amount of irritation to the skin - and can be persistent too!

What are the different types of eczema?

There are four types which I get asked about regularly at my practice, although there are so many other types – so much so that I’m writing a book all about it! These four types are:

1. Atopic eczema: this the most common type. Patients are more likely to have this if they also have asthma and/or hay fever. These types of patients will often have sensitive skin which means that they lose water quickly, meaning the skin is drier and allergens and irritants are more likely to get into the skin.

2. Discoid/nummular eczema: this eczema presents as ‘discs’ or oval-shaped areas and are often rough patches of skin which can get mistaken for ringworm or psoriasis which are also common skin conditions.

3. Eczema herpeticum: if someone with eczema comes into contact with someone with cold sores, then the eczema can become infected. This can cause painful red, fluid-filled blisters to form on the face and neck. If left untreated, it can become very serious, so it’s important to seek medical advice if you’re concerned.

4. Pompholyx eczema (dyshidrotic eczema): this is usually characterised by small itchy, fluid-filled lumps on the fingers, hands or feet, and can be triggered by a fungal infection like athlete’s foot.

What are the common places people get eczema?

Eczema can appear anywhere on the body, however there are certain areas where it’s more common. It often appears where the skin is thin, such as in the creases of knees and elbows - areas which can then become easily irritated.

I’ve also seen lots of people in the last year who have come to me with eczema on their hands. This is most likely due to washing their hands more often during the pandemic. Hands are therefore also a common area for eczema.

How do you treat eczema?

The main way of treating eczema is through prescribed creams, and/or antibiotics if the area has become infected. However, whilst these creams and antibiotics will treat the itchiness, when the course of treatment is over, the symptoms are likely to return.

This is why the real key to treating eczema is identifying the root cause of the irritation. At my practice, we offer patch testing and allergy testing to help understand what could be causing the eczema. It also might help to start writing a diary of what you do, what products you used and the food you eat, to see if there is a pattern and you can identify any triggers.

If you think you could have eczema, acne or other skin conditions and would like specialist advice from a consultant dermatologist, book to speak to Dr Afrina Alam here. Dr Alam works at The Wellington Hospital and Chiswick Medical Centre, both part of HCA Healthcare UK.