Synopsis of the Common Forms of Dermatitis

This week, I would like to discuss a little about a condition near and dear to me: dermatitis. I actually suffer from two forms of it and feel that while it is common, not many people know exactly what it is or the difference between the common forms.

There are a few forms of dermatitis, and all of them are fairly common among the world’s population. While it is not a deadly condition, it does impact the quality of life of the individuals that have it. Dermatitis is a collective term that means inflamed skin. The first two types, atopic and seborrheic, are chronic. Chronic means lasting longer than six months.

Atoptic Dermatitis (Eczema)

This is the form of dermatitis that people tend to be most familiar with. Atopic dermatitis is characterized by inflamed, dry, itchy skin that can become oozy when scratched and may become infected. In this form of dermatitis, more children that adults are impacted. Eczema appears during infancy and will typically go away as the person ages.

However, that is not always the case. Unfortunately, the cause of eczema is unknown but it is thought to be the result of having an overactive immune system. It is also a genetic condition and many times, people that have asthma or hay fever will have eczema. Eczema can also be triggered at a very early age from the presence of food allergies.

Eczema varies considerably from person to person. The locations of the body that have flare ups, triggers and severity are different. There are many generalizations, though. As a child, the flare ups are widespread. They can be on the hands, feet, legs, behind the knees and elbows and on the face. With age, the affected areas can become more isolated.

Eczema triggers include numerous things, some of which are out of our control. Any kind of emotional upset can lead to eczema flare up, which is one of the more frustrating triggers. Any change of weather including temperature and humidity can cause a flare up, too. Seasonal allergies and food allergies also lead to flare ups.

There are plenty of eczema sufferers out there that will swear eczema has a cure, but that is not true. Eczema can go dormant for quite some time and may never rear its ugly head again. But there is no cure.

Eczema has a lot of unknowns, but there is known treatments that work well.

Topical steroids are usually first in the line of treatment. While this is an effective treatment, it has potential dangers. With prolonged and excessive use, topical steroids can thicken skin and increase sensitivity.

There are also preventative measures. The obvious one is to avoid your known triggers.

It is also important to keep skin moisturized by using emollients. Eczema prone skin that is properly moisturized heals better and symptoms are less of an issue. It is best to apply moisturizers after bathing, as this helps moisturizers to absorb deeply into the skin.

A newer treatment option is phototherapy, which uses UVA rays. Light therapy has problems of its own because there is the possibility of developing skin cancer. Severe cases of eczema are treated by prescribing oral medications that suppress the immune system.

Seborrheic Dermatitis

I like to think of seborrheic dermatitis as dandruff on steroids. However, it is not only found on the scalp. It can also be found on the face and ears.

Seborrheic dermatitis is the result of the overproduction of oil and tends to run in families. Another cause is the yeast, Malessizia, which grows around areas that produce a lot of sebum. This yeast is found naturally in humans and requires fatty acids found in sebum to grow.

The problem occurs when the yeast grows too quickly and the scales are produced as a result of cell grown being interrupted. It is characterized by larger scales that can be yellow in color. Like atopic dermatitis, it most often occurs in infants and is commonly referred to as cradle cap.

Early stage seborrheic dermatitis presents itself by causing greasy scales and itching. The good news is that seborrheic dermatitis does not lead to hair loss. Certain triggers can make the condition worse such as stress, weather changes and even feeling fatigued.

Seborrheic dermatitis also has a high prevalence among those with HIV or AIDS. Treatment is easy for mild cases. Regular use of shampoos containing selenium sulfide or salicylic acid will keep the flakes away. In more extreme cases, corticosteroids or salicylic acid is applied directly onto the scalp or problem area(s).

Contact Dermatitis

At first, contact dermatitis may seem similar to contact urticaria (hives), but they are not the same. Contact dermatitis is the result of coming into contact with an allergen. Unlike hives, contact dermatitis can take a few days to fully heal. Hives typically stick around for only a few hours.

There are three types of contact dermatitis: allergic, irritant and phototoxic. Allergic contact dermatitis involves the immune system reacting to an allergen touching the skin. It is less common and can affect the person immediately, or a few days later. A common trigger for this type of dermatitis is the dreaded poison ivy.

Irritant contact dermatitis is caused by the skin coming into direct contact with a chemical and being damaged by it. It is also far more common than allergic contact dermatitis. Irritants can be common household cleaners or even nail polish remover. Some with more sensitive skin may develop contact dermatitis from more mild substances such as soap and laundry detergent.

In some cases, irritation only occurs when skin is exposed to sunlight. Products that cause this type of reaction include sunscreen and shaving cream. This is called phototoxic contact dermatitis. Symptoms include severe itching along with a rash, and in more severe cases, blisters. Treatment is essentially useless until the irritant is known and there is no further contact with it. Applying Burrow’s solution is a common treatment made from aluminum acetate. For larger areas, soaking in cool water with colloidal oatmeal will relieve itching and soften the skin. This is actually a beneficial treatment for all forms of dermatitis and anyone that has sensitive skin.

These are the three most common forms of dermatitis. The exact causes and mechanisms of dermatitis are unknown, but knowing your triggers and treatment options will make living with the condition easier.  While dermatitis does not pose any serious consequences, it sure can drive you crazy.

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