Types of Eczema

Reviewed by: HU Medical Review Board | Last reviewed: December 2023 | Last updated: December 2023

Eczema is a form of dermatitis. The word "dermatitis" means inflammation of the skin. There are a few different types of eczema, and some can be hard to tell apart. Each one may have its own triggers and treatments. Your doctor will work with you to make the right diagnosis based on your symptoms.1-4

Atopic dermatitis

When people use the term eczema, they often mean atopic dermatitis. It is the most common type of eczema.1

People with atopic dermatitis have a weakened skin barrier and an overactive immune system. This leads to areas of dry, itchy, inflamed skin. Cracked and irritated skin then makes it easier for germs and allergens to enter the body and cause an infection or reaction.1-5

People with atopic dermatitis also often have seasonal allergies, food allergies, asthma, or a combination of these. Treatment for atopic dermatitis depends on how severe it is and what other health issues are present. People with severe forms of atopic dermatitis may need to take medicine that turns down the immune system response.1-5

Contact dermatitis

Another type of eczema is called contact dermatitis. This condition comes in 2 forms based on its cause: irritant and allergic.1-4,6

Irritant contact dermatitis is a skin reaction caused by the skin touching an irritant. Irritants may include dyes or harmful chemicals in soaps or detergents. They also can be irritating fabrics in clothing.1-4,6

An irritant contact dermatitis reaction occurs right away. It usually gets better when exposure to the irritant stops. This form of dermatitis is common in people who work with possible irritants often, like construction workers, hair stylists, and janitors.1-4,6

On the other hand, allergic contact dermatitis is an allergic reaction. It occurs less often than irritant contact dermatitis. Common allergens that can create this reaction include metals in jewelry and certain makeup products. Symptoms may take days to appear after exposure to the allergen. Symptoms of allergic contact dermatitis range from a mild rash to swollen, painful hives.1-4,6

Dyshidrotic eczema (pompholyx)

Dyshidrotic eczema is another type of skin inflammation affecting the hands and feet. Sometimes called pompholyx, it mainly leads to small, itchy blisters on the hands and feet. It occurs mostly in adults and more often in women than in men. It usually runs in families. Dyshidrotic eczema can be very uncomfortable and is treated similarly to atopic dermatitis.1-4,7

Neurodermatitis

Neurodermatitis is also called lichen simplex chronicus. It usually affects only 1 or 2 areas of the skin, but these areas can be anywhere on the body.1-4,8

Areas affected by neurodermatitis are extremely itchy. The itching can come and go and may increase during times of stress or when trying to fall asleep. The more a person scratches, the more irritated the area becomes. This leads to an itch-scratch cycle that gets worse over time. Long-term scratching can also lead to skin thickening and damage.1-4,8

Causes of neurodermatitis may include stress, nerve issues, dry skin, and tight clothing. The condition is treated with drugs and creams that help reduce the urge to itch. It does not usually go away on its own.1-4,8

Nummular eczema

Nummular eczema is also called discoid eczema. People with nummular eczema have round, coin-shaped patches of itchy skin. The round spots most commonly appear on the arms and legs. They can be very itchy and ooze fluid when scratched.1-4,9

This type of eczema is more common in men. Experts do not know exactly what causes it, but it may be due to a combination of allergies, infection, irritation, and dry skin.1-4,9

Nummular eczema can look like other skin conditions such as fungal infections or psoriasis. The patches tend to get better with steroid and antibiotic creams. But nummular eczema can become chronic and come back again and again over time.1-4,9

Seborrheic dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis causes greasy, scaly, itchy patches on the skin. It can also cause white or yellow flaking on the scalp. In babies, this is called cradle cap. In adults, it leads to dandruff.

Seborrheic dermatitis occurs around areas with many sebaceous glands, which are glands that produce oil. Common sites of sebaceous glands are the chest, upper back, face, and groin.1-4,10

Experts do not know what causes seborrheic dermatitis. They think it is a combination of yeast overgrowth, inflammation, hormone imbalance, and inflammation. People with naturally oily skin tend to get seborrheic dermatitis more often than those with drier skin.1-4,10

Some health conditions also increase the risk of developing seborrheic dermatitis. These include certain types of cancer, HIV, Parkinson’s disease, epilepsy, and Down syndrome. Seborrheic dermatitis can also be a side effect of certain drugs. It is usually treated with antifungal creams or shampoos.1-4,10

Stasis dermatitis

Stasis dermatitis is also called venous eczema or venous stasis dermatitis. It leads to itching, dryness, and discoloration of the legs and feet as a result of poor blood flow. It is most common in older adults and people with varicose veins, high blood pressure, and obesity.1-4

This type of eczema causes the skin around the legs and feet to become brown, purple, red, or gray, depending on a person’s skin tone. Improving blood flow is the main form of treatment. Common ways to do so include wearing compression socks, reducing salt intake, and elevating the legs when possible.1-4

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