Symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and more

“Intrinsic eczema” is a term referring to atopic dermatitis (AD) that is not related to genetics, allergies, or other common causes of this skin condition.

According to a 2015 study, it is estimated that between 10 and 40% of people with AD suffer from this type of eczema, and it mainly affects women.

Learn more about what it means to have intrinsic eczema and why it’s difficult, without a doctor’s diagnosis, to tell the symptoms of allergic eczema apart.

“Intrinsic eczema” is a medical term used by some skincare professionals to describe a type of eczema that is unrelated to the criteria commonly seen in this skin condition, e.g. research 2015. These criteria include:

The terms “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” were first used to distinguish between allergic and non-allergic sources of asthma, respectively. However, describing eczema as intrinsic or extrinsic remains controversial among professionals because it can be confusing.

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Eczema

While intrinsic eczema means that an individual with AD does not have elevated IgE levels or associated atopic disorders, extrinsic eczema indicates the opposite.

If an allergist or dermatologist describes your eczema as extrinsic, you likely have a genetic predisposition, allergies, or asthma. Extrinsic eczema is also sometimes called allergic AD, and it’s the most common type, according to 2010 research.

Eczema itself is an inflammatory skin condition marked by patches of rashes that are red to brown in color and extremely itchy, especially at night. If you scratch these patches, they can become infected.

Although you can develop eczema anywhere, it tends to occur most often in the following areas:

  • on the hands
  • around the knees
  • on the elbows
  • on the scalp
  • on the cheeks (in infants)

Intrinsic and extrinsic eczemas have similar symptoms. However, unlike extrinsic eczema, the intrinsic (non-allergic) forms tend to cause milder symptoms. Besides red rashes, people with intrinsic eczema may also have Dennie-Morgan lines under the eyes.

Additionally, although extrinsic eczema can lead to an atypical skin barrier, intrinsic eczema did not cause these problems, according to the 2010 research mentioned earlier.

People with extrinsic forms of eczema are also more likely to have sensitive skin than those with intrinsic eczema, research 2018 suggests.

If you have sensitive skin, you may experience worsening eczema symptoms when you come into contact with:

  • products containing dyes, such as detergents
  • conservatives
  • perfumes
  • hard soaps

A healthcare professional usually diagnoses intrinsic eczema through a physical exam.

If you have a history of allergies and chronic eczema, your doctor may refer you to a specialist, such as an allergist or immunologist. They can perform allergy testing to determine which allergens can lead to eczema, hay fever, and other related conditions.

Keep in mind that intrinsic eczema is not related to allergies. If allergies are suspected to be the cause of your eczema, you probably have the extrinsic type.

Extrinsic eczema can be treated with both topical solutions and allergy medications, but intrinsic eczema is managed only with topical treatments. These may include:

  • moisturizers
  • emollients
  • over-the-counter or prescription steroid ointments

Avoiding your triggers can also help you manage intrinsic eczema. For example, if you find that certain skincare products, clothes, or foods cause breakouts, it’s best to avoid those items. An allergist or immunologist can also help you identify substances to which you may be sensitive.

Other steps that can help alleviate and prevent eczema rashes include:

  • Avoid bathing in hot water.
  • Take lukewarm showers or baths every day.
  • Apply moisturizer within 5 minutes after bathing.
  • Rinse your skin in the shower immediately after swimming.
  • Avoid extremely cold or hot temperatures.
  • Use a humidifier during the dry months.
  • Wear only loose cotton fabrics.

Although the exact causes of intrinsic eczema are unknown, the two main characteristics used by medical professionals to make a diagnosis are a typical level of IgE combined with the absence of other atopic conditions, such as asthma and allergies.

In general, eczema tends to run in families, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, especially if there is a history of atopic disease. Your immune system can also play a role in causing your body to overreact in response to everyday substances.

Since intrinsic eczema is not caused by allergies, it is not possible to have allergic intrinsic eczema. If your skin condition is thought to be caused by allergies, you probably have extrinsic eczema.

All types of atopic eczema can cause symptoms to come and go in cycles. Even with intrinsic eczema, you should be prepared for your rashes to get better and then come back, especially if you come into contact with one of your triggers.

It can also take time to figure out which topical lotions or medications are best for your skin. Keep this in mind as you work with your doctor to determine the best intrinsic eczema treatments for you.

Intrinsic eczema is a type of atopic dermatitis that develops with typical IgE levels, as well as in the absence of common atopic conditions, such as hay fever and asthma.

It is also sometimes called non-allergic eczema. People with extrinsic or allergic eczema have elevated serum IgE levels and are at greater risk of developing allergies or asthma.

Despite these differences, many telltale symptoms, such as extremely itchy skin rashes, occur in both intrinsic and extrinsic eczema. You can manage and treat these symptoms the same way no matter what type of eczema you have.

Whether your Alzheimer’s disease is considered intrinsic or extrinsic, it is important to discuss with your doctor any symptoms you are experiencing and how they improve with your current treatment plan.

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