Health A-Z

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Short-term symptoms of eczema include itchy skin, redness and tiny bumps or blisters.

If these symptoms remain untreated, the skin can become thick, scaly and dry. There can be areas of hair loss and color changes. Skin affected by long-term eczema is more vulnerable to secondary infections.

Each type of eczema has specific characteristics and patterns of symptoms:

  • Atopic eczema (atopic dermatitis) Atopic dermatitis appears as irritated, red, dry, crusted patches on the skin. If the skin becomes infected, it may develop a wet (weeping) look. Scratching the itchy patches causes more irritation. It increases the risk of infection.

  • Contact dermatitis When an irritant causes contact dermatitis, symptoms can range from a mild redness to severe skin blistering or ulceration.

When triggered by an allergic reaction, it usually causes skin redness, fine red bumps or blisters and severe itching.

A reaction caused by plant allergies (like poison ivy or poison oak) is usually intense. It appears as bumps and blisters in lines or streaks where the plant brushed against the skin.

  • Hand eczema Hand eczema usually appears during the winter as patches of dry, cracked skin. There may or may not be redness. Hand eczema may also cause itching, red bumps or blisters and scaling. Irritation often occurs under rings from soap trapped under the rings.

  • Nummular eczema Nummular eczema begins as small areas of irritation. They turn into round red, crusted or scaly patches.

  • Asteatotic eczema This type usually occurs on the lower legs. It causes itching or stinging pain in areas of dry, cracked, reddened skin. There may or may not be tiny bumps.

  • Stasis dermatitis Stasis dermatitis occurs in legs that are already puffy or swollen. It usually begins with mild redness and itching of the lower legs. If redness and tenderness develop suddenly, it could be caused by a secondary bacterial infection. Bacterial infections require immediate medical attention.

  • Lichen simplex chronicus This rash creates thickened, leathery skin with darkening of skin color. It is very itchy. Scratching makes the problem worse.

  • Seborrheic dermatitis Seborrheic dermatitis causes red, scaly patches with yellow, greasy crusts. These patches can be itchy or can cause burning.

Patches appear most commonly on the scalp as dandruff. But they also can occur elsewhere on the body. They may appear on the eyebrows, eyelids, ears and skin creases near the mouth and nose.

Scalp lesions in infants (cradle cap) can appear yellowish and greasy. They usually cause no discomfort.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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