Types of Eczema: Treatment and Causes

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / Honayst

There are at least 11 distinct types of skin conditions that produce eczema. In order to develop a rational treatment plan, it is important to distinguish them. This is often not easy.

  1. Atopic dermatitis: This health condition has a genetic basis and produces a common type of eczema. Atopic dermatitis tends to begin early in life in those with a predisposition to inhalant allergy/allergies, but it probably does not have an allergy/allergic basis. Characteristically, rash/rashes occur on the cheeks, neck, elbow and knee creases, and ankles.
  2. Irritant dermatitis: This occurs when the skin is repeatedly exposed to excessive washing or toxic substances.
  3. Allergic contact dermatitis: After repeated exposures to the same substance, an allergy triggers allergen, the body's immune recognition system becomes activated at the site of the next exposure and produces dermatitis. An example of this would be poison ivy allergy.
  4. Stasis dermatitis: It commonly occurs on the swollen lower legs of people who have poor circulation in the veins of the legs.
  5. Fungal infections: This can produce a pattern identical to many other types of eczema, but the fungus can be visualized with a scraping under the microscope or grown in culture.
  6. Scabies: It's caused by an infestation by the human itch mite and may produce a rash very similar to other forms of eczema.
  7. Pompholyx (dyshidrotic eczema): This is a common but poorly understood health condition which classically affects the hands and occasionally the feet by producing an itchy rash composed of tiny blisters (vesicles) on the sides of the fingers or toes and palms or soles.
  8. Lichen simplex chronicus: It produces thickened plaques of skin commonly found on the shins and neck.
  9. Nummular eczema: This is a nonspecific term for coin-shaped plaques of scaling skin most often on the lower legs of older individuals.
  10. Xerotic (dry skin) eczema: The skin will crack and ooze if dryness becomes excessive.
  11. Seborrheic dermatitis: It produces a rash on the scalp, face, ears, and occasionally the mid-chest in adults. In infants, in can produce a weepy, oozy rash behind the ears and can be quite extensive, involving the entire body.

Eczema vs. Atopic Dermatitis

Eczema is a nonspecific term for many types of skin inflammation (dermatitis). There are different categories of eczema, which include allergic, contact, irritant, and nummular eczema, which can be difficult to distinguish from atopic dermatitis. These types of eczema are listed and briefly described below. Atopy is a medical syndrome that includes three associated conditions that tend to occur in the same individual: atopic dermatitis, inhalant allergies, and asthma. All three components need not be present in the same individual simultaneously.

What are eczema symptoms and signs?

Almost all patients with eczema complain of itching. Since the appearance of most types of eczema is similar, elevated plaques of red, bumpy skin, the distribution of the eruption can be of great help in distinguishing one type from another. For example, stasis dermatitis occurs most often on the lower leg while atopic dermatitis occurs in the front of the elbow and behind the knee.

What specialists treat eczema?

Eczema often is treated by family physicians, but since there are many causes of eczema, it may be necessary to seek help from a health specialist if things are not improving. Most dermatologists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of all forms of eczema.

How do health care professionals diagnose eczema?

An accurate diagnosis requires an examination of the entire skin surface and a careful health history. It is important for a doctor to rule out curable conditions caused by infectious organisms. Occasionally, a sample of skin (biopsy) may be sent for examination in a laboratory.

What is the treatment for eczema?

The treatment of acute eczema where there is significant weeping and oozing requires repeated cycles of application of dilute solutions of vinegar or tap water often in the form of a compress followed by evaporation. This is most often conveniently performed by placing the affected body part in front of a fan after the compress. Once the acute weeping has diminished, then topical steroid (such as triamcinolone cream) applications can be an effective treatment. In extensive disease, systemic steroids may need to be utilized either orally or by an injection (shot).

What are home remedies for eczema?

Mild eczema may respond to compresses composed of tepid water followed by room air evaporation. Chronic eczema can be improved by applying water followed by an emollient (moisturizing cream or lotion). Mild eczema can be effectively treated with nonprescription 1% hydrocortisone cream.

Does diet affect eczema?

The role of diet in atopic dermatitis is controversial. There is little compelling evidence that diet plays a significant role for majority of people who have eczema, no matter which type they have.

Is there a cure for eczema?

Each type of eczema requires a specific sort of therapy. The easiest eczemas to cure permanently are those caused by fungi and scabies. Allergic contact eczema can be cured if a specific allergenic substance can be identified and avoided.

Is eczema contagious?

Eczema caused by fungi and scabies is transmissible to others. None of the other types of eczema are contagious.

What is the prognosis of eczema?

Most of the patients with eczema do quite well under the care of a dermatologist who has made an accurate diagnosis. Occasionally, eczema can become infected by microorganisms, such a staphylococci or herpes simplex virus. This is because the normal barrier function of the skin has been damaged by the inflammatory condition. In this situation, the infection could be contagious and require antibiotics treatment. An important signal would be the development of pain fever and pustules, plus pain at the site of the rash.

Is it possible to prevent eczema?

The judicious use of moisturizing creams or ointments can be an effective treatment for many people in preventing certain types of eczema.

Cupping Therapy

Cupping is a type of traditional Chinese medicine that stimulates the flow of chi (qi, or energy) within the body. There are a few different types of cupping: air, fire, wet, and the sliding cups technique. Cupping purports to bring impurities to the skin's surface and remove toxins. Oftentimes, cupping leaves marks, or bruises, on the skin.

Heat Rash: Pictures, Symptoms, and Treatment

Heat rash remedies include OTC creams and sprays. Usually heat rash resolves when the skin is cooled sufficiently. Medical treatment may be necessary if the sweat glands become infected.

Keratosis Pilaris (KP)

Keratosis pilaris (KP) is a common skin disorder in which small white or red bumps appear around hair follicles on the upper arms, thighs, buttocks, and cheeks. The cause of KP is unknown. There is no cure for keratosis pilaris, and the condition may resolve on its own. Gentle exfoliation, professional manual extraction, chemical peels, and microdermabrasion, along with topical products, are the best treatments for this condition.

Low FODMAP Diet for IBS

FODMAPs are foods that contain sugar alcohols and short chain carbohydrates. The gut can't digest them very well. There are "low" FODMAP foods and "high" FODMAP foods. Foods high in FODMAPs lay in the gut and ferment, which causes symptoms of:

  • Excessive gas
  • Bloating
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea

Some people with digestive diseases and disorders, for example, IBS, microscopic colitis, IBD (Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis), and other functional bowel disorders often are placed on a low FODMAP diet to decrease the amount of high FODMAPs foods in the diet, which create uncomfortable symptoms.