Causes and treatment of eczema

Eczema is a skin condition with a variety of causes. One type is called atopic dermatitis; it often runs in families with a history of hay fever or asthma. In the very young it may occur as an allergy to certain foods. Usually in any eczema, the skin is inflamed, itching, and scaly-often in patches. In a child the eczema typically appears in front of the elbows and behind the knees; in an adult, on the hands.

Another type, irritant contact dermatitis, is caused by frequent contact with irritating substances. These can be solvents, soaps, detergents, chemicals. Wear rubber gloves when washing dishes or using household cleaners. Wash your hands and bathe with a nonallergenic soap. For either of the above types, a nonprescription hydrocortisone cream, applied four times daily, may relieve symptoms.

Yet a third type, allergic contact dermatitis, results from even a small amount of contact. The substance can be wool, poison ivy and related plants, nickel (in jewelry), rubber, or certain chemicals. If the problem persists, ask your doctor about patch tests to determine the substance.