Eczema Revealed!

October 7, 2011
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Eczema… It’s a word we have all heard before, and a word we’ve probably used when describing someone’s skin. But what does it really mean?

Eczema is an “umbrella” term or “catch-all” phrase. It encompasses a wide variety of skin conditions that really have little or no relation to each other. In truth, eczema is a non-specific word whose definition is not clearly defined. Even among medical professionals, there is confusion on the true definition of the word.
For that reason, instead of eczema, we will use the word dermatitis, meaning inflamed skin. There are many causes of dermatitis, and we will discuss a couple here.

Contact Dermatitis is a skin reaction to something that comes into contact with our skin. This category can be further broken down into two categories: Irritation Contact Dermatitis, and Allergic Contact Dermatitis.
Irritation Contact Dermatitis is a skin reaction to a substance that most everyone would react to if they were exposed. Examples include exposure to harmful chemicals, harsh cleaning products, highly concentrated detergents, and strong solvents. This also includes diaper rash in babies when their skin is exposed to urine or stool for a prolonged period. Non-prescription lotions and creams may help to decrease itchiness and soothe the rash. On the foot, this condition may present after buying new shoes which use cement or other manufacturing agent that irritates your skin.

Allergic Contact Dermatitis is a skin reaction that only occurs if you are particularly sensitive to a specific substance. This is the proverbial “allergic reaction” people can have to different plants, fragrances, nickel or other metals, latex, or medications. Even if you aren’t originally allergic to one of these agents, with repeated exposure, you can develop them.

How can you tell if it’s allergic or irritation dermatitis? If it is irritation, the rash shows up the first time you are exposed to the agent, and the rash comes immediately after exposure. If it is an allergy, you will not develop a rash the first or even second time you are exposed. It is only after you have been exposed a couple of times that you develop a rash, and after exposure, the rash does not show up for a day or two. Your podiatrist can help recognize these types of reactions on the feet and give appropriate treatment.

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