One of the most common myths and misconceptions about eczema is that it is contagious. Probably, this myth has circulated due to the closeness of people who have the condition. For example, if your sibling or friend has eczema and uses a certain type of perfume or skin moisturizer, you may at one time used the same on yourself. It is likely that you will experience an irritation on your skin after sharing the perfume or skin moisturizer, and may develop a feeling that you contracted the condition from your friend.
The common misconception about eczema persists because it is often confused with other skin ailments such as scabies, hives, psoriasis, and food allergies. However, the good news is that eczema is not contagious. To better understand this skin condition, we need to be familiar with its different types, symptoms, and what triggers it.
What causes eczema?
Eczema has been studied by scientists for a while now, but it is still uncertain what causes it. A pattern in families with a history of the condition has been discovered. Usually, the condition is passed on together with other allergies. Having relatives with eczema means that one is likely to also have the condition. The condition flows in the genes. Thus, it does not mean that it is spread from person-to-person through direct contact.
Children who are born into families that have a history of allergic diseases such as asthma are at high risk of developing eczema. Eight out of 10 children suffer from eczema if both the parents have allergies. If one parent has an allergy, then the ratio is 6 out of 10.
What exactly is eczema?
In medical terms, eczema means an inflammatory condition of the skin. The patches on the skin become inflamed and rough, and it is often observed that these patches produce tiny bumps that are filled with fluid and can leak as well. Eczema is also called as atopic dermatitis.
The condition has also been noted to be more common in children born to older women. However, the reason is still unclear why such thing happens.
Eczema is also caused by an abnormal function of the immune system, which causes it to overreact when it is exposed to certain triggers. Other people who have eczema develop the condition as a result of an abnormality in their skin barrier that allows germs into their skin and moisture out of their body through the skin.
It is generally agreed that the flare-up on the skin is caused by an overreaction of the body to certain conditions or materials. For example, some people will experience skin flare-ups when exposed to extreme weather conditions, that is, hot or cold weather. Other common triggers of eczema are chemical irritants and fragrances, for example, those found in cigarette smoke, soap, baby wipes, and even toothpaste.
Many people with eczema also develop complications when they come into contact with animal dander. Animal dander is the small particles of hair or dry skin that are shed by the animals. Again, all of these elements are found in the environment but might have lead you to think that you contracted the condition from someone else. It is important to remember that these triggers do not cause eczema but simply cause the skin to become irritated and cause the condition to manifest itself.
The only way to pass eczema is through one's genes. Medically, this does not make the condition communicable or contagious.
Spreading Through Other Parts of the Body
Eczema cannot be passed from one person to another through physical contact. However, it can be spread through other body parts of the same person. When your skin gets irritated, it is best to avoid scratching the part of the affected skin. For example, in children, eczema can spread on their cheeks, chin, and face. In adults, the skin condition can spread from the neck, knees, elbows, and wrists. The infection becomes worse if it is scratched.
If the affected area of your skin becomes infected, then the agent responsible for the infection may be contagious.
Symptoms of Eczema
The symptoms of eczema can be observed within the first two years of life. However, in some cases, it may start from the age of 20. A diagnosis can be done through checking any of the following factors:
- Symptoms of itchiness
- Swelling, redness, and an inflamed skin
- A leathery skin texture
- Relapsing and chronic skin changes, such as having dark-colored scaly patches
- Elevation of immunoglobulin E (IgE) serum levels
- A history of hay fever or asthma
- Having relatives who suffer from eczema
There is no specific blood test or other tests to diagnose eczema since the condition can only be diagnosed through the skin's appearance.
Diagnosis by the doctor will be done by first asking about your previous medical history of allergies or infections, and by physical inspection of your skin. The analysis of crusts (skin biopsy) can also be done to get rid of the chances of any other type of infection. The crusts are analyzed to confirm the presence of harmful microorganisms.
If the crusts are due to an allergic reaction, you doctor will carry out additional allergic tests to specifically determine the substances that you are not compatible with.
Different Types of Eczema
- Nummular eczema
- Dyshidrotic eczema
- Asteatotic eczema
- Allergic eczema
1) Nummular Eczema
It is a persistent condition forming coin-shaped spots on the skin. It is also called as "discoid eczema". These spots stand out, are irritating, and can secrete a clear fluid, or become scaly. It originates from an injury and may ensue in patches of multiple coin-shaped lesions that can last for several months or more.
This disease is more prevalent in men than women, with the first cases of the infection being reported to be between the ages 55-65. It is frequently observed in females during young adulthood and puberty stages. Although it can develop troublesome symptoms, they can be alleviated using medications and externally applied medicine.
Nummular eczema is non-infectious and is not transmitted through direct contact.
Causes of Nummular Eczema
The scientific cause of nummular eczema is unknown, but some people suggest that it can be due to a family or personal history of certain allergies, asthma, or atopic dermatitis. People with nummular dermatitis tend to have a sensitive skin that feels itchy and irritated.
The following conditions can influence its development:
- Extreme changes in temperature
- Emotionally and physically stressful conditions
- Skin that tends to easily dry up
- Environmental irritants such as metals and chemicals
Nummular Eczema Symptoms
Nummular eczema usually shows patches of coin-shaped lesions and wounds on the skin mostly on the limbs, but may later spread to other parts of the body. The lesions may secrete fluid and become encrusted. The area around the lesions can become red, scaly, and inflamed.
Call a doctor if you suspect you have developed nummular eczema. If it is left untreated, an infection can arise from the spots, causing yellow crusted lesions. These lesions can also appear as brown, pink, or red in color.
Nummular Eczema Treatment
There is no definitive cure for nummular eczema, but you can modify your daily routine to alleviate your symptoms.
To prevent aggravating your symptoms you should avoid:
- Certain fabrics such as wool since it can stimulate your symptoms
- Bathing in extremely hot water
- Coming into contact with irritants such as harsh household cleaning agents and chemicals
- Getting skin injuries, abrasions, and cuts
- Use of fabric softeners and dryer sheets
To relieve the symptoms, you should:
- Use moist bandages to cover and shield the damaged or vulnerable areas of your skin against harmful agents.
- Apply medicated creams, ointments, and oils as recommended by your dermatologist.
- Use UV light treatment for distressful itching.
- Keep your skin hydrated using scent-free moisturizers after taking a bath.
Factors that can increase one's risk of developing nummular eczema:
- Living in dry and cold conditions
- Having a dry skin
- Incompetent blood flow or swelling in the legs
- Being infected with other types of eczema
- Loss of skin integrity
- Bacterial skin infection
Nummular Eczema Prognosis and Outlook
Treatment is centered around avoiding stimuli or conditions that can trigger your symptoms to flare-up. Getting proper treatment will ensure that nummular eczema is healed within a year.
However, since it is a chronic illness and you can’t be sure if you are completely cured, some scars may intermittently come and go while others are healed for a lifetime.
Lesions on the lower limbs usually take longer to heal and may leave different shades of scars, ranging from very dark to very light shades.
2) Dyshidrotic Eczema
Also known as dyshidrosis, is a skin disease that causes the development of blisters on the soles of the feet and palms of your hand. Such blisters may be fluid-filled and itchy that could last up to a month. Dyshidrosis can be linked to the occurrence of stress or occasional allergies.
Diagnosing Dyshidrotic Eczema
The examination for dyshidrosis is similar to other forms of eczema. The doctor will physically assess your skin and if no conclusive diagnosis is found, additional tests may be done to rule out other diseases. It can include carrying out skin biopsies by testing the scales from the lesions. Allergic testing may also be carried out if allergic eczema is suspected.
Causes of Dyshidrosis
Experts still do not know the exact cause of this skin condition. However, it is believed to be caused by allergies or emerged from blisters, especially during spring blister seasons.
- Blisters on the hands and feet which may or may not be fluid-filled
- The blisters become itchy and can cause the skin to chip.
- The affected areas become severely painful.
- As the blisters dry, the skin might crack and become thicker or spongier.
Treatment of dyshidrotic eczema will vary depending on how severe your skin condition is.
There are several treatment options that skin experts can choose from, so it may be best to try out as many options as possible according to your doctor’s instructions before finding the right medication for you.
People Who Are at Risk of Developing Dyshidrotic Eczema
Doctors believe that you are at a high risk of infection if you are:
- Frequently experiencing high levels of stress
- Having allergic reactions
- Often spend time in water or damp conditions
- Constantly exposed to metals such as cobalt, chromium, or nickel
Complications of Dyshidrosis
Extreme pain and itching are the main problems when it comes to dyshidrotic eczema.
Sometimes, the pain can be severe to the extent that it disturbs your sleep, you become unable to use your hands and feet, or you may develop an infection due to constant scratching.
Controlling and Preventing Dyshidrosis
Currently, there are no preventive measures against dyshidrotic eczema outbursts and flare-ups. However, the best way to protect your skin is to apply a moisturizer and avoid substances that can cause skin irritation. Such substances include harsh cleaning agents and strong scented lotions or perfumes. You can also visit a dermatologist to truly understand the overall condition of your skin.
Dyshidrotic Eczema Prognosis and Outlook
Healing may take a few weeks without complications, and if you did not scratch the affected areas of your skin, no noticeable scars are left. Scratching is an avenue for bacterial infection and can cause healing to take longer or lead to further development of blisters and discomfort. It will also cause more pain related to eczema.
Although flare-ups of eczema eventually disappear, reinfection can occur. Since there is no cure yet, there is no proven method to effectively prevent or cure the infection.
Dyshidrosis in Children
Dyshidrosis or dyshidrotic eczema is more common in children than in adults.
3) Asteatotic Eczema
This form of eczema is linked to dry skin caused by the lack of skin moisture. It mostly affects elderly people, usually above 60 years old. Moreover, men are more prone to develop this type of eczema than women.
Causes of Asteatotic Eczema
No exact cause is known yet, but it is assumed to be caused lack of skin moisture that leads to dry skin. After you develop this disease, less moisture is produced by the skin, leaving you vulnerable to pathogens, irritants, and skin damage.
The following are considered as risk factors of asteatotic eczema and should be monitored:
- A weakened immune system: A healthy immune system is important when it comes to general health and the ability to fend off pathogenic substances. A suppressed immune system means that you are vulnerable to diseases and your skin can be affected as a result.
- Poor nutrition: It is important to consider having a well-balanced diet when you have asteatotic eczema. Avoid the consumption of alcohol, caffeinated drinks, refined sugars, and processed fats. They contain an inflammatory compound known as histamine. Consuming more of these foods will cause your immune system to intensify the secretion of inflammatory chemicals, thereby worsening and slowing your immune system's response.
- Stress: This is not a causative factor, but plays a major role in intensifying symptoms and weakening your immune response as well as stomach function. When the body detects that you are under stressful conditions, your body responds by releasing more inflammatory chemicals. It also increases your heart rate and sweating. Sooner or later, the immune system becomes burdened and unable to produce such chemicals as per the demand, aggravating your symptoms leading to the development of other conditions.
- Low humidity: Eczema requires the skin to be constantly moistened, but in other times, such as winter with low humidity, it can worsen, especially if you use heaters that produce hot air.
- Irritants: If the integrity of the skin is compromised, then it is more susceptible to pain and itchiness. Harsh chemicals found in some household products are known to make the skin more painful, encrusted, and scaly.
- Medication: Certain medications such as blood pressure medicines can influence surges of asteatotic eczema.
Symptoms of Asteatotic Eczema
The symptoms of asteatotic eczema are similar to the other types of eczema. However, a few unique symptoms may occur. They include:
- Cracked skin: This is the most common and manifests by a pattern across the skin, which is divided by red lines with scaly patches.
- Skin discoloration: If more inflammatory chemicals are produced by the immune system, more melanocytes are secreted leading to redness.
- Inflammation: As more histamine is produced by the immune system to fight pathogens and fix the damage, your body will react and become inflamed.
- Skin irritation: This is sometimes the most painful symptom and can be so severe that it disrupts your sleep patterns.
- Stress: If you have asteatotic eczema, stress can take its toll on your self-esteem and confidence.
- Loss of sleep: Due to the pain and stress caused, you can be so distressed to the point of not having enough sleep.
4) Allergic Eczema
Other terms used to describe allergic eczema include:
- Allergic dermatitis
- Contact dermatitis
- Allergic contact dermatitis
- Contact eczema
If you come into contact with irritants or harmful substances, your body produces chemicals to ward off possible infections. Exposure to infected substances can result in allergies, but not all of these lead to other conditions.
Nonetheless, you can come into contact with substances that initiate immune responses even if they are harmless, causing an allergic reaction.
Allergic reactions come in various forms, including but not limited to:
- Coughing and sneezing
- Burning eyes
- Troubled breathing
- Runny nose
- Changes in the skin
Allergic eczema is an irritating skin rash emanating from contact with allergens. The condition can be instant or occurs hours after exposure to certain allergens.
Currently, there is no cure for eczema. However, you can control the condition to make it less of a problem for you. Many people opt for medications such as topical steroids. They can be a little intense and should ideally be done under the supervision of a doctor. An easier way to control the condition is by using moisturizers, avoiding possible triggers, and trying to stay stress-free.
Eczema can be devastating for those who ignore it since the symptoms of eczema can go out of control. Having severe eczema affects the quality of a person's life.
Medication and Medical Treatment
Topical corticosteroids can be applied directly on the skin for non-severe infections. If your health is greatly affected, an adrenal steroid pill or injection may be needed.
Other options include:
- Ultraviolet light treatment
- Drainage of oversized blisters
- Administering anti-inflammatory drugs
- Applying creams that can soothe the itch
- Using ointments that calm the immune system
- Antibiotics for bacterial infection
- Treatment using antihistamines such as Claritin or Benadryl
Home Remedies for Eczema
1) Keeping the Skin Moist
Your doctor will recommend the use of moisturizers, ointments, or a wet cold compress to relieve the irritating sensation. Keep your skin hydrated to avoid having dry skin. Moisturizers may include:
- Petroleum jelly
- Heavy medicated creams
- Mineral oils
2) Dietary Changes
Speak to your doctor before making any dietary changes to help control your eczema. Foods that contain a lot of cobalt or nickel are thought by some to aggravate the symptoms, so avoiding them may help manage your eczema. Make sure you are not deficient in any key nutrients before changing your diet. It may also be necessary to alter your diet if medication does not effectively calm some of your symptoms.
3) Foot and Hand Treatments
Blisters may occur on the soles of your feet and on the palms of your hands. Treatment should be done in a similar manner as any other part of the skin. Keep in mind that other areas of the body will generally be more sensitive to topical medications than your palms and soles of your feet. Also, do not scratch blisters or expose yourself to conditions that make the pain worse, such as intense heat or intense cold. Avoid prolonged or repeated exposure to water and certain products that can inflame your skin such as perfumed lotions and soaps.
When to See a Doctor
The symptoms of eczema may come and go, but if the itching of your skin already affects your daily activities, or if there are crusting or oozing, painful cracks on your skin, a spreading rash, and eczema that produces pus or red streaks, you should ask for a doctor’s help immediately as there could be a secondary infection that might be contagious. You can consult a dermatologist, a doctor who specializes in skin problems to diagnose and treat your skin condition.
Although eczema is not considered as a medical emergency and there is still no cure for it, its symptoms are manageable. The condition is treated by applying a moisturizer on the affected part. Some topical medications contain steroids to lessen the inflammation.
The best way to deal with eczema is by knowing and avoiding the factors that can trigger it. Doing so may help suppress future flare-ups.