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Patch testing: Is It A Skin Allergy Or Eczema?

The cause of eczema can be tough to figure out - even for dermatologists.

Eczema, or dermatitis as it is sometimes called, is a group of skin conditions which can affect all age groups. In the United Kingdom, up to one fifth of all children of school age have eczema, along with about one in twelve of the adult population.

"Patch testing of the skin can tell us if a rash is being caused or exacerbated by an allergy, and can help us to distinguish a skin allergy from other skin conditions, such as eczema, irritant dermatitis or psoriasis," says Joshua L. Fox, dermatologist and founder of the Center For Laser And Cosmetic Surgery.
The severity of eczema can vary. In mild forms the skin is dry, hot and itchy, whilst in more severe forms the skin can become broken, raw and bleeding.

Although it can sometimes look unpleasant, eczema is not contagious. With treatment the inflammation of eczema can be reduced, though the skin will always be sensitive to flare-ups and need extra care.

Atopic eczema is thought to be a hereditary condition, being genetically linked. It is proposed that people with atopic eczema are sensitive to allergens in the environment which are harmless to others.

In atopy there is an excessive reaction by the immune system producing inflamed, irritated and sore skin.

Other types of eczema are caused by irritants such as chemicals and detergents, allergens such as nickel, and yeast growths. In later years eczema can be caused by a blood circulatory problems in the legs.

There are a number of ways to manage eczema, all of which begin with an effective skin care routine. Emollients are necessary to reduce water loss from the skin, preventing the dryness normally associated with eczema. When eczema is under control only emollients need to be used. However in flare-ups, when the skin becomes inflamed, a steroid cream may be needed. Steroids act by reducing inflammation and are used in most types of eczema. As long as steroids are used appropriately and as directed by your doctor, the likelihood of side effects is very rare.