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Atopic dermatitis is a type of eczema

Knowing your atopic dermatitis from your eczema

Eczema is a common term that people use for different skin conditions.1

But it’s not a catch-all.

According to the National Eczema Association, there are seven different types of eczema.1 Getting to know them can help you better understand your symptoms, what causes them, and the best way to treat them.

The symptoms of your AD often overlap with other forms of eczema, so it may be tricky to tell which one you have.

Let's take a look at each type.

Atopic dermatitis (AD)

Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema, impacting 15-20% of children and around 1–3% of adults worldwide.2 It’s characterised by a widespread and often debilitating itch.3 AD is caused, in part, by an imbalance within the immune system, potentially influenced by genetic predispositions and environmental factors, leading to underlying inflammation beneath your skin.2,3 In adults, AD signs and symptoms mostly appear on your face, neck, upper arms and back, elbow and knee creases, feet, fingers, toes, and on the back of your hands.4

Contact dermatitis

Contact dermatitis, unlike AD, doesn’t run in families and isn’t linked to other allergic conditions such as hay fever or asthma.5 It’s typically identified by irritation or inflammation after coming into contact with certain substances that trigger an allergic reaction, which may then cause a flare.5

Dyshidrotic eczema

Dyshidrotic eczema manifests as small, intensely itchy blisters on the palms of your hands, soles of your feet, and the edges of your fingers and toes.6 It’s usually more common if you have another type of eczema already, and tends to run in families.6

Neurodermatitis

Neurodermatitis is sometimes used as an equivalent term for AD, however, others use it to describe a form of eczema that is confined to one or two areas that look like patches on your skin - unlike AD, which can be more widespread across the body.7 It’s most common on your feet, ankles, hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, neck, and scalp.7 Patches can appear thick and leathery, developing pronounced skin lines, scales, and red, brown or grey discolouration.7

Nummular (discoid) eczema

Nummular (discoid) eczema presents as scattered, circular, often coin-shaped, and itchy patches that sometimes ooze.8 It can also develop as a reaction to other types of eczema.8

Seborrheic dermatitis

Seborrheic dermatitis is characterised by redness, swelling, and greasy scaling.9 It appears on the skin where there are a lot of oil-producing (sebaceous) glands, like the upper back, nose, and scalp.9

Stasis (gravitational) dermatitis

Stasis (gravitational) dermatitis occurs when there is poor circulation in the lower legs due to the veins not working efficiently, and usually affects people over the age of 50.10 This may generate the common symptoms associated with eczema, like itching and dryness.10

Underlying Cause

How can I tell if it’s AD?

Because the term eczema covers so many different skin conditions, your doctor or dermatologist will examine your signs and symptoms and diagnose what type of eczema you may have. There are things that your dermatologist will consider:

  • Itching is an indicator that you might have AD.3 You might have a small itch, or it might be taking over your life. It can get in the way of sleep, work, and so much more.
  • AD typically develops in early childhood.3 Approximately 60% of people with AD develop the condition in their first year of life, with 90% developing AD within their first five years.2 The highest incidence occurs between the ages of 3 and 6 months.2 As you grow older, your symptoms may lessen. But sometimes, you can carry the burden of AD into your adult life, with 10–30% of adults continuing to have symptoms past adolescence.2
  • If you or a family member has an allergic condition like hay fever or asthma, you may be more likely to have AD too.3, 11 This is because they’re all grouped into the same category of conditions that involve an imbalance in the immune system.11
  • Genetics can play a part in AD, though it isn’t fully understood how, except that it involves the mutation of a gene (called filaggrin) that usually helps maintain a healthy skin barrier.12 This means that AD can run in the family.
Doctor

Talk to a doctor or specialist, who can help identify whether you have AD.

They can answer your questions and help you find the right treatment for you to ease your eczema symptoms.

What is AD

What is atopic dermatitis?

It's a simple question, and we've got the simple answer. Let's break down the very basics of AD.

Learn more
AD Glossary

Glossary

Feeling lost in a sea of terminology? Our glossary can help you feel confident when you discuss your AD.

Expand your vocabulary

References

  1. National Eczema Association. An Overview of the Different Types of Eczema. Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/types-of-eczema/. Accessed: July 2021.

  2. AJMC. Overview of Atopic Dermatitis. Available at: https://www.aimc.com/view/overview-of-atopic-dermatitis-article Accessed: July 2021.

  3. National Eczema Association. Atopic Dermatitis. Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/types-of-eczema/atopic-dermatitis/ Accessed: July 2021.

  4. Skin of Color Society. Eczema. Available at: https://skinofcolorsociety.org/dermatology-education/eczema/ Accessed: July 2021.

  5. National Eczema Association. Contact Dermatitis. Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/types-of-eczema/contact-dermatitis/ Accessed: July 2021.

  6. National Eczema Association. Dyshidrotic Eczema. Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/types-of-eczema/dyshidrotic-eczema/ Accessed: July 2021.

  7. National Eczema Association. Neurodermatitis. Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/types-of-eczema/neurodermatitis/ Accessed: July 2021.

  8. National Eczema Association. Nummular Eczema. Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/types-of-eczema/nummular-eczema/ Accessed: July 2021.

  9. National Eczema Association. Seborrheic Dermatitis. Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/types-of-eczema/seborrheic-dermatitis/ Accessed: July 2021.

  10. National Eczema Association. Stasis Dermatitis. Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/types-of-eczema/stasis-dermatitis/ Accessed: July 2021.

  11. National Eczema Association. Conditions Related to Eczema. Available at: https://nationaleczema.org/eczema/related-conditions/ Accessed: July 2021.

  12. Brown SJ. J Pathol 2017; 241(2): 140-145.