There are seven different types of eczema, including atopic eczema, contact dermatitis, and discoid eczema. All types of eczema can cause patches of discoloration and irritation.

Eczema is a common skin condition that affects 31 million people in the United States. In general, eczema can affect the skin by causing:

  • dark, colored patches
  • rough, scaly, or leathery patches
  • swelling
  • crusting and oozing

Eczema is not contagious, meaning a person cannot catch it or pass it on to another person.

In this article, we look at seven different types of eczema, their symptoms, and what causes them. We also cover diagnosis, treatment, and how to prevent flare-ups.

Atopic dermatitis, or atopic eczema, is the most common type of eczema.

Symptoms often present in childhood and can range from mild to severe. A child is more likely to develop atopic dermatitis if one of their parents has had it.

Children with atopic dermatitis have a higher risk of food sensitivity. They are also more likely to develop asthma and hay fever.

Some children may grow out of atopic dermatitis.

On light skin tones, atopic dermatitis tends to cause patches of dry skin that can become itchy, red, and inflamed. On dark skin tone, these dry patches can look darker brown, purple, or gray. These patches often appear in the creases of the elbows and knees and on the hands, face, and scalp.

Scratching the patches can worsen the itching and make the skin ooze clear fluid. Over time, repeated scratching or rubbing can cause the patch of skin to thicken. This is known as lichen simplex chronicus (LSC).

People with atopic dermatitis usually experience flare-ups, where the eczema temporarily gets worse. Triggers of flare-ups include:

  • low humidity, cold weather, and extreme changes in temperature
  • irritants, such as detergents, soaps, perfumes, and fragrances
  • dust mites
  • animal hair and saliva
  • skin infections, including scabies
  • certain fabrics, such as wool and synthetics
  • hormonal changes, often before periods or during pregnancy
  • food allergies
  • sensitivity to medications

Some people experience a skin reaction when they come into contact with certain substances. This is known as contact dermatitis.

Symptoms of contact dermatitis can include:

  • dry, discolored, and itchy skin that may feel as though it is burning
  • blistering
  • hives, a type of rash that consists of small, red bumps

A person with atopic dermatitis has an increased risk of contact dermatitis.

There are two types of contact dermatitis:

Irritant contact dermatitis

Irritant contact dermatitis can result from repeated exposure to a substance that irritates the skin, such as:

  • acids and alkalis
  • fabric softeners
  • harsh detergents
  • solvents
  • hair dyes
  • weed killers
  • cement
  • some shampoos

People who regularly use or work with these substances have a higher risk of developing contact dermatitis.

Allergic contact dermatitis

Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when a person’s immune system reacts to a particular substance, known as an allergen.

A person might not react to an allergen the first time they come into contact with it. However, once they develop an allergy, they will usually have it for life.

Possible allergens include:

  • glues and adhesives
  • latex and rubber
  • some medications, such as topical corticosteroids
  • fabrics and clothing dyes
  • some plants, including poison ivy, poison oak, and sumac
  • ingredients in some makeups, nail polishes, creams, hair dyes, and other cosmetics
  • certain metals, such as nickel and cobalt

Dyshidrotic eczema, or pompholyx eczema, typically appears in adults under 40 years of age. It usually occurs on the hands and feet and has characteristic symptoms, including intense itching and the appearance of small blisters.

In some cases, the blisters can become large and watery. The blisters may become infected, which can lead to pain and swelling. They may also ooze pus.

Blisters typically clear up within a few weeks. Following this, the skin often becomes dry and cracked, which may lead to painful skin fissures.

It is unclear what causes dyshidrotic eczema. However, it is more common in people who have:

  • hay fever
  • atopic dermatitis or a family history of atopic dermatitis
  • fungal skin infections

People who work with certain chemicals or have their hands immersed in water throughout the day are also at greater risk of developing dyshidrotic eczema.

Other triggers include emotional stress and changes in the weather.

Dyshidrotic eczema may be a form of contact dermatitis. People with dyshidrotic eczema also tend to experience flare-ups from time to time.

Discoid eczema, or nummular eczema, is recognizable on light skin tones due to the disc-shaped patches of itchy, red, cracked, and swollen skin that it causes. On dark skin tones, a person may see brown patches.

The discs typically appear on the lower legs, forearms, and back of the hands. Sometimes, the center of the disc clears up, leaving a ring of red skin.

Discoid eczema most commonly develops in men after 50 years of age and before 30 years old in women.

As with other types of eczema, the causes of discoid eczema are not fully understood. However, known triggers and risk factors include:

  • dry skin
  • skin injuries, such as friction or burns
  • insect bites
  • poor blood flow
  • cold climate
  • bacterial skin infections
  • certain medications
  • sensitivity to metals and formaldehyde
  • atopic dermatitis

Eczema that only affects a person’s hands is called hand eczema.

Symptoms include itchy, dry patches of skin that may be red or dark brown in color. These patches may form cracks or blisters.

Exposure to chemicals triggers hand eczema. People are more likely to get this type of eczema if they work in jobs that expose them to irritants, such as:

  • cleaning
  • hairdressing
  • healthcare
  • plumbing
  • construction
  • laundry or dry cleaning

Neurodermatitis is similar to atopic dermatitis. It begins with an itch, and the more a person rubs, the itchier it becomes.

Neurodermatitis causes thick, scaly patches to appear on a person’s skin. Typically, this form of eczema occurs on the arm, leg, back of the neck, scalp, or groin area. On light skin tones, these patches can be red, while patches on dark skin tones may look violet in color.

Neurodermatitis usually starts in people who have other types of eczema or psoriasis. Doctors do not know exactly what causes it, but stress and anxiety can be triggers.

Stasis eczema is also known as venous, gravitational, or varicose eczema. It is common in older adults with varicose veins.

Getting older and being less active can weaken the veins in a person’s legs. This can lead to both varicose veins and varicose eczema.

Varicose eczema typically affects the lower legs, and symptoms can include the following:

  • hot, itchy spots or blisters
  • dry, scaly skin
  • weepy, crusty patches
  • cracked skin

On light skin tones, it looks red or brown. On dark skin tones, it tends to look dark brown, purple, or gray and can sometimes be more difficult to see.

The skin on the lower leg may become fragile, so it is important to avoid scratching and picking at the spots and blisters.

This type of eczema most often affects people with poor circulation, usually over the age of 50 years. It is also more common in women.

High blood pressure, multiple pregnancies, and kidney failure are some risk factors for developing stasis eczema.

People who experience symptoms of eczema may wish to consult a doctor or dermatologist. Eczema can indicate a new allergy, so it is important to determine what is causing the reaction.

Eczema can also increase the risk of staph infections and have a severe effect on a person’s mental health. A doctor can recommend a treatment plan to manage symptoms and flare-ups.

There is no specific test to diagnose most types of eczema. The doctor will want to know the individual’s personal and family medical history. They will also ask about recent exposures to potential allergens and irritants. It is essential that people let the doctor know if they have hay fever or asthma.

The doctor may also ask about:

  • sleep patterns
  • stressors
  • previous treatments for skin conditions
  • use of steroids

A physical examination of the rash will help the doctor diagnose which type of eczema it is.

The doctor may also perform a patch test, which involves pricking a person’s skin with a needle that contains potential irritants and allergens. A patch test can determine whether or not someone has contact dermatitis.

There is no cure for eczema, so treatment involves managing the symptoms and trying to prevent further flare-ups.

Some treatment options for eczema include:

  • moisturizers or emollients to keep the skin hydrated and reduce itching and cracking
  • steroid creams and ointments to reduce swelling, redness, and soreness
  • antihistamines to reduce itching, especially at night
  • topical calcineurin inhibitors to help reduce inflammation
  • phototherapy, which uses ultraviolet (UV) light to fight inflammation
  • biologics to calm the immune system and lessen inflammation
  • antibiotics to treat bacterial skin infections

Below are some commonly asked questions about types of eczema.

What is a rare type of eczema?

Eczema herpeticum (EH) is a rare but potentially serious skin infection that can develop in a person with eczema. It is caused by the herpes simplex virus (HSV).

When someone has EH, it causes a sudden outbreak of small, fluid-filled blisters and open sores with crusts, usually on the areas of the skin affected by eczema.

A person may also feel unwell, with symptoms such as fever, swollen lymph nodes, or malaise.

In children, especially infants, and in people with weak immune systems, it can be dangerous and even life threatening.

What triggers eczema?

Eczema triggers will depend on the type of eczema a person has.

For example, atopic eczema can occur due to things such as:

  • cold weather
  • dust mites
  • food allergies
  • irritants, such as detergents, soaps, and perfumes

Meanwhile, stasis eczema is triggered by poor circulation and blood flow in the legs.

What’s the difference between eczema and dermatitis?

“Eczema” and “dermatitis” are terms that people often use interchangeably. However, “eczema” is a term used to describe a group of skin conditions in which the skin is itchy, dry, and inflamed. Meanwhile, “dermatitis” is a broader term that refers to inflammation of the skin and encompasses more than eczema.

Eczema is a skin condition that manifests in seven distinct types, each with unique symptoms and triggers.

Diagnosis involves a medical history assessment and physical examination, sometimes supplemented by patch tests to identify allergens.

Treatment focuses on symptom management through moisturizers, steroids, antihistamines, and lifestyle adjustments such as stress management and dietary changes.

Regular monitoring of symptoms and consultation with healthcare professionals is crucial for effective management and prevention of eczema flare-ups.

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