Although all eczema is dermatitis, not all dermatitis is eczema. Dermatitis is an overall term for itchy skin conditions, while eczema is a specific type of dermatitis. Eczema is also called atopic dermatitis, but most doctors prefer to call it eczema. When you read about dermatitis and eczema or talk to your doctor about them, the terms will often be used interchangeably, which can cause a little confusion.
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The Other Kind
There are two basic kinds of dermatitis – eczema being one and seborrheic dermatitis (seborrhea) being the other. You might know this condition better by its slang name “cradle cap”. Seborrheic dermatitis and eczema both produce patches of itchy, flaky and reddened skin, but cradle cap affects mainly just the scalp of usually just infants, although it can pop up in adults from ages 30 – 60. For some reason, it seems to hit men more than women. The cause is unknown.
Although dermatitis and eczema are not life-threatening skin conditions, they are incredibly annoying. You want to scratch badly – but you know you shouldn’t, as that will make the skin worse. So you scratch anyway and make it worse, meaning you will soon feel terribly itchy all over again. Dante wrote about hell being divided up into nine layers, and on this scale dermatitis and eczema is a punishment from level two.
The main symptoms are similar to seborrhea, with big red patches of persistently itchy and flaky skin. This can hit at any age or sex of the patient. This sometimes is a secondary symptom of another condition. For example, a lot of women in pre-menopause or menopause get eczema when they’ve never suffered from dermatitis or eczema before.
Surprise, surprise – the exact causes of dermatitis and eczema are unknown. However, there has been a correlation between families who suffer from seasonal allergies or hay fever that often also have eczema. In this case, symptoms usually begin in infancy and lessen as an adult. But not always.
Dermatitis and eczema come and go for years. An attack usually comes soon after the patient has gone through a very stressful period in their lives. However, stress alone does not seem to be the cause, or else everyone would have it all of the time.
Go To the Doctor
There are many anti-itch creams and lotions in your local pharmacy that you can try to alleviate the maddening itch, but if you want long lasting help, you should go see your doctor.