Eczema is an inflammation of the skin which may cause dryness, flakiness, heat, and probably most importantly, itching. Dermatitis is a term which is sometimes connected, in people's minds, with exposure to chemicals. It really only means inflammation of the skin, and could be used interchangeably with eczema, as it often is by doctors.
Eczema can be caused by a number of different factors, and may result in just a small patch of skin being affected, but can affect skin anywhere on the body.
Many things cause eczema. The commonest is a general allergic over sensitivity (atopy). This sort of eczema is known as atopic eczema, and it is linked with asthma and hayfever. That is, these conditions often run together in a family.
The other possible causes include:
Infantile eczema which often affects young babies. This may lead to a patch below their chins, which gets wettest from dribbling, and may be associated with cradle cap.
Contact with substances which irritate the skin chemically. This is caused by direct contact between the skin and the substance, which might be such things as detergents, soaps, diesel or engine oils, strong chemicals, cleaners etc.
Contact with substances which the body has become allergic to. Commonly this involves nickel, rubbers etc. If a woman was sensitive to nickel in the past it would cause a reaction where the bra hooks and suspenders came near her skin, as these typically contained nickel. Plastics have helped to overcome this risk, but jewellery and watches are still a common cause. Suddenly people need to spend a bit more on their presents to you!
Varicose veins can lead to a form of eczema affecting the lower legs. This is known as varicose or gravitational eczema. As well as treatment of the skin, it is important to improve the blood circulation in the legs, and for most people this includes wearing support stockings and staying active on your feet.
It is highly infectious