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Could You Have Eczema or Dermatitis? Know the Signs and Symptoms of This Skin Condition

As the body’s largest organ and the first line of defense against external forces, our skin faces many threats, and in most cases, it’s well prepared for the job. However, plenty of things can irritate your skin, even if they’re not otherwise harmful to your overall health. Of course, it’s not always easy to determine whether a problem with your skin is just that, or if it points to a deeper concern.

For instance, eczema, also referred to as dermatitis,, isn’t usually a cause for alarm, but its signs and symptoms can resemble those of other, more serious conditions. Knowing the ins and outs of eczema can help you take better care of your skin as a whole, and better gauge your overall health.

Understanding Eczema/Dermatitis

So, why are the terms eczema and dermatitis used interchangeably? They aren’t quite the same thing, as it turns out. Dermatitis is a broader term used to describe skin irritation, while eczema is a type of dermatitis (atopic dermatitis) that results from an allergic response. In other words, there are multiple types of dermatitis, and eczema happens to be the most common.

Eczema Signs and Symptoms

While atopic dermatitis tends to rear its head early in one’s life, people of all ages can experience signs of eczema. It’s also worth noting that eczema can present itself differently from one person to the next. Some patients may experience only a few eczema symptoms while others may suffer from them all. These symptoms include:

  • Dry skin (either in specific areas or across the skin)
  • Itching (ranging from mild to severe and sometimes worse at night)
  • Blister-like bumps
  • Cracking, scaly skin
  • Isolated discolored patches (often on hands, feet, wrists, chest, and sometimes face or scalp)
  • Sensitive and swollen skin

The more severe your eczema, the more of these symptoms you’re likely to have.

Who Is at Risk for Eczema?

Dermatologists still can’t pin down an exact cause for eczema. That said, if your skin has trouble protecting itself from allergens and irritants, you’re more likely to experience signs of eczema. And, as with many ailments, your likelihood of experiencing eczema symptoms largely depends on your genetics. So, those with a family history of allergies in general or atopic dermatitis in particular are at greater risk.

Instead of focusing on the root causes of this condition, then, doctors will examine a number of factors that might trigger an eczema flare-up in a given patient. The more you know about your own skin and the way it reacts to different substances and sensations, the better you can guard yourself against these symptoms.

Typical triggers of eczema include but are not limited to:

  • Allergens such as pollen, dust, or certain foods
  • Chemicals
  • Friction (from tight clothing, for instance)
  • Exposure to heat (i.e. a prolonged hot shower)
  • Exposure to dry climates
  • Exposure to polluted climates

Is It Eczema or Another Skin Condition?

If you think you might have eczema, it’s important to see a dermatologist who can properly diagnose your condition and prescribe the best possible treatment. It may turn out that what you thought was dermatitis was actually another condition with similar symptoms, such as psoriasis or hives. But if it is eczema, there are many ways to treat your skin to mitigate symptoms.

Some of these dermatitis treatment options include:

  • Anti-itching ointments and creams (i.e. Protopic, Elidel)
  • Anti-inflammatory oral drugs
  • Corticosteroids
  • Drugs to fight infections (antibiotics)

Additionally, you can reduce eczema flare-ups by making lifestyle changes that steer your skin away from potential triggers. For instance, you might regularly moisturize your skin, take shorter, cooler showers, avoid using certain soaps or eating certain foods, and take steps to reduce stress levels.

At Premier Dermatology Partners, we help patients get to know their bodies better than before so they can work towards achieving more comfortable, healthy, beautiful skin. To learn more about our providers and all the services we offer, contact us today.

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