Eczema is one of the most common skin conditions in the United States, affecting over 31 million Americans. Despite that huge number, many people don't really understand what eczema is — even people who have it.
What Is Eczema?
Eczema is the medical name for skin inflammation. Chronic eczema is a long-term problem that produces itchy, red and dry skin that never seems to go away.
You may be surprised to learn that eczema doesn’t refer to a single disorder. It’s a group of skin conditions that can have different triggers:
- Atopic dermatitis: This kind of eczema produces patches of inflamed, dry skin and red, itchy rashes. Some people have trouble sleeping at night because of the constant itching and pain.
- Contact dermatitis: This condition causes a burning sensation and small blisters. It means your skin is experiencing a negative reaction to some chemical, fabric or metal. The rash that appears when you touch poison ivy is a type of contact dermatitis.
- Seborrheic dermatitis: This type of eczema is connected to the oil-producing glands in your skin and scalp. It causes scaly, dry skin that flakes off. Dandruff is a symptom of seborrheic dermatitis.
- Dyshidrotic eczema: This variety of eczema produces itchy, fluid-filled blisters on the fingers, palms and soles of the feet. These blisters can last up to a month before disappearing.
Is Eczema the Same Thing as Dry Skin?
Not really. Dry skin is one of the main symptoms but not the only one. Itching is another sign of eczema.
Many colds cause a runny nose, but that doesn’t mean that every time you have a runny nose it’s caused by a cold. Similarly, dry skin isn’t always the result of eczema.
What Else Can Cause Dry Skin?
There are many reasons why your skin can dry out:
- Winter weather: Winter does a double whammy on your skin. Cool outdoor air has less moisture, so it dehydrates exposed skin. Indoor heating dries skin even more, frequently causing cracked lips and raw knuckles.
- Dry climates: If you live in an area known for dry air, you need to up your moisturizing game for your skin.
- Certain illnesses and medications: People who have diabetes, kidney problems or thyroid disorders may have to fight again severe dry skin. Some medicines, such as diuretics, can also cause dry skin.
- Frequent hand washing: Each time you wash your hands, you strip away some of the protective layers that keep your skin hydrated.
- Aging: As people get older, the body doesn’t produce as much of the hydrating oils that nourish skin and keep it soft and supple.
- Harsh detergents: If you mainly notice extremely dry hands after washing dishes or doing laundry, one of the detergents you use may be too strong for your skin.
- Vitamin deficiencies: The body depends on vitamin A, vitamin D, zinc, iron and niacin to produce healthy, hydrated skin. Low vitamin levels can cause dryness problems.
Is your skin naturally more sensitive? People who get dry skin a lot should make sure to moisturize several times a day.
What Is the Treatment for Eczema?
For minor eczema, the best treatment is often prevention. Try to avoid personal triggers, such as stress, strong fragrances, harsh detergents or overwashing.
If dry skin becomes painful or you have large break-outs, make an appointment with a dermatologist. Your doctor can determine the type of eczema you have and provide treatment that focuses on providing relief.