6 Types of Eczema: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

Itchy skin? Find out if one of these types of eczema could be causing your symptoms.

Eczema is a skin condition that causes red, dry, and itchy patches of skin. But eczema is a broad term that encompasses several subtypes, including:

  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Contact dermatitis
  • Dyshidrotic eczema
  • Nummular eczema
  • Seborrheic dermatitis
  • Stasis dermatitis

In the United States, more than 31 million people have symptoms of eczema. Generally, the skin condition is manageable and treatable with topical creams, ointments, or gels. But in severe cases of eczema, the skin condition can be painful to interfere with daily activities. 

Here's what you should know about the symptoms of each subtype of eczema, as well as ways to prevent and treat flares of those symptoms.

Atopic Dermatitis

Atopic dermatitis is one of the most common forms of eczema. The dry, red, scaly skin often appears on the outer parts of joints like elbows and knees. 

Other symptoms of atopic dermatitis include:

  • Oozing blisters that crust over
  • Discharge or blood coming from the ears
  • Patches of skin that become raw from scratching
  • Changes in skin color
  • Inflammation
  • Thick patches of skin

Allergens, chemicals, stress, and temperature changes can trigger flares of atopic dermatitis symptoms.

In people with atopic dermatitis, the skin barrier isn't well-maintained. 

"The skin is not holding the fats that it should, and that creates microscopic cracks," Emily Newsom, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Medicine, told Health. "It's like the mortar between the bricks is missing."

The condition has a genetic component and often runs in families. Many people with atopic dermatitis also have asthma and hay fever, called the "atopic triad."

How To Treat and Prevent Atopic Dermatitis

It's best to talk to a healthcare provider about a treatment plan. Some of the most common treatments for atopic dermatitis include:

  • Moisturizing creams
  • Corticosteroid creams and ointments
  • Other topical medications, such as calcineurin or phosphodiesterase-4 inhibitors
  • Oral medications
  • Biologic medications, which are given via injection
  • Skincare treatments, including wet wrap therapy or diluted bleach baths—although, do not try either of those treatments until after speaking with a healthcare provider
  • Ultraviolet (UV) light therapy

Still, there are ways you can care for your skin at home to treat and prevent flares of atopic dermatitis symptoms, like:

  • Keeping your fingernails short to avoid scratching
  • Taking antihistamines when you're itchy
  • Using petroleum jelly or other ointments two to three times daily
  • Considering a humidifier
  • Making sure your moisturizers are free of irritants, such as alcohol, fragrances, alcohol or harsh chemicals
  • Avoiding overheating or stress, which can make you sweat and intensify your symptoms
  • Taking lukewarm baths and showers and make them short
  • Avoiding harsh cleansers 

Contact Dermatitis

Contact dermatitis happens when the skin touches irritating substances, like nickel or a particular chemical, Michele S. Green, MD, a dermatologist based in New York, told Health.

Contact dermatitis symptoms tend to show up wherever the skin comes into contact with an irritant and include:

  • Redness
  • Skin that feels warm and tender
  • Scaly, raw, or thick patches of skin
  • Blisters that can "weep" and then crust over

There are several subtypes of contact dermatitis. Some of the most common subtypes are irritant and allergic contact dermatitis.

"Irritant contact dermatitis is something that would irritate anyone if you have a high enough concentration, like bleach or acid or even poison ivy," said Dr. Newsom. "Allergic contact dermatitis is a true allergy. The immune system is responding as if it's dangerous when it's not."

Possible irritants and allergens include:

  • Cement
  • Hair dye
  • Rubber or latex
  • Certain soaps and shampoos
  • Adhesives
  • Antibiotics
  • Some clothing materials
  • Fragrances
  • Nail polishes
  • Some metals found in jewelry

How To Treat and Prevent Contact Dermatitis

What you think may be causing your rash may not be the actual cause since a reaction can take hours or days. You could also suddenly develop an allergy to something that didn't previously cause a reaction.

Therefore, consulting a dermatologist to determine what's causing your rash is essential. A dermatologist may use allergy testing with skin patches to determine what allergens irritate your skin.

Depending on the cause, a dermatologist can recommend the best treatment. Some common treatments for contact dermatitis include:

  • Washing the affected skin with water to remove the irritant
  • Using emollients or moisturizers to reduce inflammation and help repair the skin
  • Using any medications, like topical corticosteroids, creams, ointments, or corticosteroid pills, as prescribed
  • Applying wet dressings and anti-itch lotions

Additionally, some ways to manage and prevent flares of contact dermatitis symptoms include:

  • Identifying the trigger to avoid touching it
  • Not scratching, which can lead to an infection
  • Using cool compresses, oatmeal baths, or anti-itch medicine
  • Trying 1% hydrocortisone, which you can buy over the counter, or calamine lotion
  • Using a moisturizer or a barrier repair cream after you bathe or wash
  • Washing new clothes before you wear them

Dyshidrotic Eczema

Dyshidrotic eczema, also called pompholyx eczema, causes small, itchy blisters that usually appear on the hands and feet. Those blisters can be quite painful. Symptoms often flare during stress, when temperatures rise, or if your hands stay wet for too long.

All forms of eczema can cause severe symptoms. But dyshidrotic eczema can be especially debilitating if feet blisters make it hard to walk or hand blisters get in the way of daily tasks or work.

How To Treat and Prevent Dyshidrotic Eczema

There is no cure for dyshidrotic eczema, but treatments may help. A healthcare provider can help determine the cause of your dyshidrotic eczema, which will inform your treatment. 

However, dyshidrotic eczema is generally more difficult to treat than other types of eczema. If other common eczema treatments don't alleviate your symptoms, a dermatologist may consider dupilumab, a biologic medication.

Additionally, some things you can do at home to help manage and prevent flares of dyshidrotic eczema symptoms include:

  • Applying medicated soaks and cool compresses two to four times daily for 15 minutes at a time
  • Applying prescription corticosteroid creams to your skin after a soak or compress
  • Taking anti-itch medicine, such as oral antihistamines
  • Using a moisturizer or a barrier repair cream, which can help reduce flares when your skin is very dry 

Nummular Eczema

Nummular, also known as discoid eczema, is distinct from other types. Nummular eczema always produces round, "coin-shaped" lesions on the skin that are often itchy.

"Nummular just refers to the shape of the lesion," explained Dr. Green. "It's a round spot."

Typical triggers include stress, environmental allergens, or dry skin caused by cold weather.

How To Treat and Prevent Nummular Eczema

Some ways to treat nummular eczema include:

  • Topical corticosteroids
  • Other topical creams or ointments
  • Wet wrap therapy as directed by a healthcare provider

Additionally, some methods for managing and preventing flares of nummular eczema symptoms include:

  • Avoiding irritants
  • Using gentle cleansers
  • Keeping your baths and showers short (under five minutes) and water lukewarm
  • Moisturizing often with lubricants, like petroleum jelly, especially right after bathing
  • Taking oral antihistamines that make you sleepy if your itching is very bad at night 

Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is more commonly known as dandruff when it appears on your scalp. Seborrheic dermatitis often appears in infancy, also called "cradle cap," in babies, and can recur throughout adolescence and adulthood.

Seborrheic dermatitis can also appear on other body parts with sebaceous glands, which produce oils like your nose and upper back. 

Hormones and yeast can aggravate the condition, causing red, greasy, or swollen patches of skin. The condition might appear as fine flakes or thick white or yellow flakes that crust.

"It's usually not as annoying as some of the other [types of eczema] unless it's severe," noted Dr. Green.

How To Treat and Prevent Seborrheic Dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis can flare unpredictably and can't be cured. But you can manage the condition. 

Sometimes, shampoos with tar are enough to manage and prevent flares of seborrheic dermatitis symptoms. Additionally, other treatments include:

  • Salicylic acid creams
  • Antifungal creams or shampoos
  • Topical coticosteroids
  • UV light therapy

Stasis Dermatitis

Generally, stasis dermatitis is a symptom of an underlying health condition. Specifically, stasis dermatitis can indicate problems with blood flow. In addition to red, itchy, flaky skin, ankles may swell and blisters may develop into ulcers.

How To Treat and Prevent Stasis Dermatitis

You'll need to find and treat the underlying cause to treat stasis dermatitis.

"Stasis dermatitis can be a red flag," said Dr. Green. "You can use creams. But, ultimately, you need to go see a cardiologist or a vascular [healthcare provider]."

A healthcare provider may recommend that you try some of the following techniques to improve your blood flow:

  • Elevating your legs
  • Regularly exercising
  • Walking for 10 minutes for every hour of sitting or standing

As with other types of eczema, applying lotion to the affected skin can help alleviate painful symptoms.

A Quick Review

Eczema is a general term including several subtypes of the skin condition that cause red, dry, itchy patches of skin. 

You can generally manage and treat flares of eczema symptoms with topical creams, ointments, or gels. But in severe cases of eczema, the skin condition can be painful to interfere with daily activities. Depending on your eczema's type, cause, and severity, a healthcare provider may prescribe or recommend different treatments. 

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15 Sources
Health.com uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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