These days, if we’re not coping with eczema ourselves, it sometimes feels like all of us at least know someone who is. It’s a common condition that affects an estimated 35 million Americans. Despite being so widespread, there’s a lot of misunderstanding surrounding eczema. For instance, did you know that eczema, like dermatitis, is actually an umbrella term that’s used to describe a range of skin inflammations?
Let’s clear up some of the confusion here and now: Eczema and dermatitis are, more or less, the same. Dermatologists tend to use the two terms interchangeably when referring to a variety of skin rashes and irritations. The most common that we see are contact, seborrheic, and atopic dermatitis, which is considered a severe form of eczema.
Is there a difference?
That said, while eczema and dermatitis refer to the same types of skin conditions, there are distinctions between them, just like there are with the different kinds of acne.
The different types of dermatitis vary by their causes and where they appear on the body. The aforementioned atopic dermatitis, for example, is a chronic condition that usually begins in infancy. It’s caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. And it most commonly appears on the elbows, knees, and neck.
Contact dermatitis, by contrast, is spurred by direct exposure to a certain allergen or irritant, like poison ivy or even a new skin-care product. And seborrheic dermatitis generally affects the areas of the body that produce more oil, like the face, back, and upper chest. It can also be triggered by yeast.
Even with these variations, all of these conditions technically fall under the eczema umbrella—which can also be called dermatitis.
How do you treat it?
The causes and locations may be different, but the symptoms between the various types of eczema are virtually the same, so they’re also treated similarly. Most commonly, that entails gentle skin cleansers that enhance skin hydration and don’t disrupt the skin barrier, as well as moisturizers that effectively seal in skin hydration. And topical cortisone creams can help reduce inflammation.
Topical antifungal creams or medicated shampoos often improve seborrheic dermatitis. Contact dermatitis can usually be managed by simply avoiding the trigger cause.
Before beginning any kind of treatment, a proper diagnosis is critical. If you’re experiencing enflamed skin or a rash that could be attributed to eczema, see a dermatologist. They’ll determine the cause and form a treatment plan.