Atopic eczema (or atopic dermatitis) 

Atopic eczema is the most common form of eczema affecting New Zealanders.

‘Atopic’ is used to describe allergic conditions (e.g. hayfever, asthma and atopic eczema) where people have a genetic tendency to be hypersensitive to allergens. A person with atopic eczema will often have hayfever and/or asthma and may also have a family history of these three conditions.

Atopic eczema usually appears during infancy and early childhood, with up to 90% of atopic eczema sufferers developing symptoms by five years of age. The eczema often appears behind the knees, inside the elbows, around the ankles, behind the ears and on the eyelids.

Most children outgrow eczema, however for a minority there may be further outbreaks in adulthood, particularly when the skin comes in contact with irritating substances. When the condition is chronic, it tends to fluctuate between flare-ups and remissions.

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis is a type of eczema that develops in a specific area in the body, from direct contact with an external substance. Depending on the cause, it may only last an hour or so, or a few days – or it could last for a long period of time.

There are two main types:

Irritant contact dermatitis is the most common, and usually affects adults. It is a reaction to an irritating substance (such as chemicals or detergents) that causes damage to the skin. New mothers and nurses often develop this kind of condition due to frequent hand-washing and increased contact with soaps and detergents.

Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when the skin comes in contact with an allergen. Exposure to the allergen triggers the body’s response. Sometimes this happens after only one exposure to a substance, but it can also be the result of long-term exposure. Typical allergens include cosmetics, metal compounds (especially nickel found in costume jewellery), plants, hair dye, perfumes and clothing dyes.

Other kinds of eczema include seborrhoeic eczema, found in the scalp, and varicose and discoid eczema found on the lower legs.