What is eczema?

​​​Itchy, swollen, dry skin, fluid-filled blisters, a red rash… do these sound familiar? These are the common symptoms of atopic eczema or atopic dermatitis, a skin condition which affects nearly 21 per cent, or one in five people in Singapore.

Atopic eczema is the most common form of eczema, an itchy skin disorder that can occur at any age. It is particula​rly common in babies and young children and can be caused by a combination of factors including a genetic predisposition, skin irritants, allergies, the environment and stress. Eczema is not infectious or contagious.

“The rash may appear red, wet and weepy or dry, thickened and scaly. Scratching often aggravates the rash,” says Associate Professor Pang Shiu Ming​, Senior Consultant from the Department of Dermatology at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a​ member of the SingHealth group. “The skin thickens and becomes darker after repeated scratching and rubbing. The rash can affect any part of the body, particularly the elbow bends, back of the knees and the neck.”

Different types of eczema​​

1. Atopic eczema​​​

This usually runs in families and is part of a group of allergic conditions such as asthma and allergic rhinitis.

2. Seborrhoeic eczema

There are two types, one seen in babies and the other one seen in adults. Areas affected tend to be the oily parts of the body, such as the scalp, face, groin and chest. Seborrhoeic eczema is usually not itchy in babies.

3. Discoid eczema

This condition is usually confined to the arms and legs. It consists of itchy, coin-shaped patches which may be weepy or scaly.

4. Varicose eczema

This is a condition of the legs, commonly found in the elderly and people with varicose veins.

5. Contact dermatitis

There are two types – irritant and allergic.

  • Irritant contact dermatitis is caused by exposure to soaps, detergents and water

  • Allergic contact dermatitis is caused by sensitivity to materials like nickel, cement, rubber, hair dye, perfumes and preservatives in toiletries and personal products

Read the next page to learn about using moisturisers and topical steroids to treat eczema.

Ref. L20

Check out our other articles on skin conditions:

Psoriasis: What Triggers It and How to Manage

Stevens-Johnson Syndrome: A Potentially Deadly Skin Disease

Skin Cancer: Types, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention Tips

Common Skin Conditions in Babies