Eczema, also called dermatitis, affects one person in five at some time in their lives. It is a dry red rash that is often very itchy. Although there are several different types of eczema, they are all treated in a similar way.
The most common form of eczema is atopic eczema, which tends to affect people who also have asthma or hay fever, or who have close relatives with those conditions. It often begins in infancy, and tends to improve with age.
Contact dermatitis is due either to allergy to something coming into contact with the skin such as a fragrance or preservative, or to repeated exposure to a chemical that causes irritation such as soap or other detergent.
Seborrhoeic dermatitis usually affects the scalp, causing redness, itch and flaking. In babies it’s also called cradle cap. Other body area affected by seborrhoeic dermatitis include the sides of the nose, the eyebrow area and the genital skin.
Discoid eczema is particularly itchy; it causes round patches on the arms and legs in middle aged adults.
In all forms of eczema, it is helpful to minimise anything that irritates or dries out the skin, such as soaps and shower gel. Moisturisers should be applied several times daily, and can be used as soap substitutes for washing. Anti-inflammatory ointments or creams are used; steroid-based products have been in use for many years and are highly effective, and there are newer steroid-free alternatives that can suppress flares of eczema as well as treat inflamed areas.