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What you should know about eczema

Eczema is a chronic, inflammatory skin disease. "Inflammatory" because it is mainly characterized by red plaques. "Chronic" because eczema alternates between active phases known as flare-ups and calmer phases known as remission periods. To better understand eczema, we can compare it to the shape of a wave: the top of the wave represents a flare-up; the trough of the wave represents a remission period. During the calmer phases, there are usually no visible symptoms other than dry skin. However, the patient still has eczema, it's not "all in their head".

Is eczema contagious?

Eczema is a complex disease of which the common denominator is the cyclical appearance of plaques on the skin. It should be noted that these plaques are not contagious; this is a popular misconception both in schools and the workplace. Eczema is a very common disease, but it is still largely misunderstood by the general public, with some people believing that it can be transmitted by shaking hands. It's our job to challenge these preconceived ideas!

Atopic eczema

The term "eczema" actually refers to not one but several skin diseases. The most common form is known as atopic eczema or atopic dermatitis. It is also referred to as constitutional eczema because it is a genetically determined disease: the skin's sealing capacities are compromised, it does not play its role as a protective barrier, allergens or irritants can penetrate the skin more easily and the immune system becomes hyperactive. Atopic eczema mainly affects very young children, but older children and adults can suffer from it too. During their lifetime, people with atopic eczema can at the same time develop a syndrome associated with this disease known as atopic syndrome: food allergies, asthma, rhinitis, conjunctivitis, etc. Atopic eczema is a disease in its own right which goes far beyond just visible plaques: itching, sleep disorders, changes in environment and lifestyle, parental stress, difficulty applying treatments, etc.

Adult eczema

Because atopic eczema is the most common form, the general public tend to believe that eczema only affects children. However, many adults suffer from it, and the condition can sometimes last decades. Some have learned to "live with it", others continue to look for solutions without ever managing to control their disease. The most common forms of eczema in adults are atopic eczema, which tends to appear on the face only, contact eczema and chronic hand eczema. The latter develops from atopic eczema and/or contact eczema, which is associated with repeated skin irritations. Adults with eczema worry about being stared at and often isolate themselves rather than face other people.

What is pregnancy eczema?

Eczema can affect anyone, including pregnant women. In some cases, the eczema is a preexisting condition and pregnancy can either improve the skin's condition or aggravate it. In other cases, eczema occurs in pregnancy and only presents during this period, and possibly during subsequent pregnancies.

What is contact eczema?

Contact eczema is another form of eczema: the plaques are very similar to atopic eczema plaques, however their mechanism of appearance is radically different. The inflammatory reaction occurs directly on the area of the skin that came into contact with the allergenic substance. The substances responsible can vary widely, and are sometimes present in the work environment or encountered due to modifications to a workstation or even career changes.

We should also mention two other less common and less well-known forms of eczema, in order to demonstrate once again that eczema does not refer to one single disease:
  • Dyshidrotic eczema, mainly localized on the hands and feet, and characterized by blisters that form bubbles and then burst;
  • Nummular eczema, also known as discoid eczema, involving coin-shaped eczema lesions; this type of eczema is sometimes of atopic origin.

Points to remember

What you should know: eczema is ultimately much more than a simple skin disease, the impact on daily life, family, work, sleep, relationships, etc. is very real and should not be overlooked.

There are solutions: if you have eczema, don't hesitate to contact your dermatologist who can confirm the diagnosis, implement a suitable treatment plan and improve aftercare for this common and chronic disease.