What allergies can cause eczema
Other types of eczema include:
- discoid eczema – circular or oval patches of eczema on the skin
- atopic eczema (also called atopic dermatitis) – the most common type of eczema; it often runs in families and is linked to other conditions, such as asthma and hay fever
- varicose eczema – this most often affects the lower legs; it’s caused by problems with the flow of blood through the leg veins
Sheet final reviewed: 12 November 2019
Next review due: 12 November 2022
What is eczema?
Eczema is a skin disorder that causes itchiness and rash.
The most common type is “atopic dermatitis”. Flare-ups can be triggered by environmental factors, or unknown causes.
Severity depends on the individual. Some people may own mild itchiness and a few dry patches.
Others, particularly young children, may own eczema covering much of the body.
There is currently no cure for eczema. Therapy is focused on preventing flare-ups, which can be caused by certain soaps, fabrics and skin products, as well as substances such as chlorine.
Becoming overheated, or having moisture trapped between clothing and the skin (such as a wet bathing suit) can also be triggers for a flare-up.
Preventing contact dermatitis
The best way to prevent contact dermatitis is to avoid contact with the allergens or irritants that cause your symptoms.
If you cannot avoid contact, you can take steps to reduce the risk of the allergens or irritants causing symptoms, including:
- changing products that irritate your skin – check the ingredients on make-up or soap to make certain it does not contain any irritants or allergens; in some cases, you may need to contact the manufacturer or check online to get this information
- using gloves to protect your hands – but take them off every now and again, as sweating can make any symptoms worse; you may discover it useful to wear cotton gloves underneath rubber gloves if the rubber also irritates you
- cleaning your skin – if you come into contact with an allergen or irritant, rinse the affected skin with warm water and an emollient as soon as possible
- applying emollients frequently and in large amounts – these hold your skin hydrated and assist protect it from allergens and irritants; you could also use emollient soap substitutes rather than regular bar or liquid soaps, which can dry out your skin
Causes of contact dermatitis
Contact dermatitis can be caused by:
- an irritant – a substance that directly damages the outer layer of skin
- an allergen – a substance that causes the immune system to reply in a way that affects the skin
Contact dermatitis is most commonly caused by irritants such as soaps and detergents, solvents or regular contact with water.
Read about causes of contact dermatitis
Treating contact dermatitis
If you can successfully avoid the irritants or allergens that trigger your symptoms, your skin will eventually clear up.
However, as this is not always possible, you may also be advised to use:
- emollients – moisturisers applied to the skin to stop it becoming dry
- topical corticosteroids – steroid ointments and creams applied to the skin to relieve severe symptoms
If you own a severe episode of contact dermatitis and it covers a large area of your skin, a doctor may prescribe oral corticosteroids, but this is rare.
Read about treating contact dermatitis
When to see a pharmacist
Speak to a pharmacist if your contact dermatitis is troubling you.
They can recommend treatments such as emollients (moisturisers), which you rub on your skin to stop it becoming dry.
Find a pharmacy
Symptoms of contact dermatitis
Contact dermatitis causes the skin to become itchy, blistered, dry and cracked.
Lighter skin can become red, and darker skin can become dark brown, purple or grey.
This reaction generally occurs within a few hours or days of exposure to an irritant or allergen.
Symptoms can affect any part of the body but most commonly the hands and face.
Read about symptoms of contact dermatitis
When to see a GP
See a GP if you own persistent, recurrent or severe symptoms of contact dermatitis.
They can attempt to identify the cause and propose appropriate treatments.
A GP may refer you to a doctor who specialises in treating skin conditions (dermatologist) for further tests if:
- the substance causing your contact dermatitis cannot be identified
- your symptoms are not responding to treatment
Read about diagnosing contact dermatitis