Is a group of medical conditions that cause skin irritation or inflammation. The most common type of eczema is known as atopic dermatitis. Eczema is not caused by an infection and the condition may be chronic or temporary, mild or in some rare cases, very serious. It first appears as redness and episode of itching of the skin. One may also have blisters or tiny bumps.
Most children who develop the condition outgrow it by their tenth birthday, while some people continue to have symptoms on and off throughout their lives. The disease can often be controlled if proper treatment is used.
Eczema may affect any part of the skin but is almost always itchy. Sometimes, itching precedes appearance of the rash, but when the rash appears, it most commonly appears on the back of the knees, face, hands, wrists or feet. Other areas may also be affected.
Affected areas are likely to appear very dry, scaly or thickened. In fair skinned people, affected areas may initially appear reddish before turning brown. It can affect pigmentation, among darker skinned people, such that the affected area appears darker or lighter.
In infants, the rash can result in a crusting condition or produce an oozing that mainly happens on the scalp and face, but patches are likely to appear anywhere.
Causes of eczema
Eczema is thought to be linked to the body’s immune system over actively responding to an irritant. It is this response that causes the symptoms of eczema. However, the exact cause is still unknown.
Eczema is commonly found in families with a history of allergies or asthma. Also, defects in the skin barrier could let out moisture and allow germs to get in.
Some people have higher chances of getting the itchy rash when exposed to certain substances or conditions. For some, coming into contact with coarse or rough materials can cause the skin to become itchy. For others, feeling too cold or too hot, coming into contact with animal dander, or exposure to certain household products like detergent or soap may cause an outbreak. Stress can also cause the condition to worsen. Colds or upper respiratory infections may also be triggers.
Most people can effectively manage their disease by avoiding irritants and medical treatment. The condition cannot be spread from one person to another as it is not contagious.
A dermatologist, pediatrician or general practitioner can make a diagnosis of eczema. There are no specific tests to determine eczema so most often your doctor can tell if its eczema by looking at your skin and asking a couple of questions.
Since many people with eczema are likely to have allergies, your doctor may perform an allergy test to determine possible triggers or irritants. It is especially likely that children with eczema will be tested for allergies.
Prevention and treatment
People with eczema have irritable skin, and scratching and itching contribute to a large part of the skin changes. Eczema is treated by application of moisturizing and medicated ointments or creams and by avoiding irritants to the skin.
Avoiding irritants and allergens
It’s important to try to avoid anything that tends to aggravate your eczema. Common environmental irritants include shampoos, soaps, bubble baths, wool, solvents, sand, grass, nylon and solvents. House dust mites, pollen, animal dander or even certain foods can also aggravate eczema if you are allergic to them.
Overheating may also worsen your eczema and should be minimized. Always bathe in warm rather than hot water. In the winter, you can turn down the heater and refrain from using an electric blanket. Fans and air-conditioning can be helpful during summer.
Normal soap is alkaline and can dry out your skin further. Avoid soap and detergent based shampoos, and instead use soap and shampoo substitutes. Bath oils can also be helpful but you should be careful as they can make the bath very slippery. If you prefer to shower, you may opt to use bath oils. Spray the oil onto wet skin immediately after the shower and then use a towel to lightly dry the skin. Having less frequent or shorter showers can also help treat dry skin.
Emollients and moisturizers
Moisturizing your skin is one of the easiest and most important measures in reducing eczema flare ups and preventing scratching ad itching. Incorporate regular moisturizing into your daily skin care routine. Be careful to avoid moisturizers that contain preservatives and perfumes which can cause skin irritation.
Moisturizers should be applied frequently, for very dry skin all over the skin at least twice a day. Also, ointments tend to be more effective than lotions or creams when it comes to very dry skin. It’s best to apply emollient or moisturizer after a bath or shower to help seal the moisture after bathing.
In some people, wet dressings may also help eczema symptoms. Simply apply steroids cream or emollient to the skin and cover with bandages that have been soaked in warm water. They should be left for approximately 2 minutes to an hour, and can be applied 3 to 4 times a day. Wet dressings are used for severe flare ups of eczema for a few days.
Corticosteroid based ointments or creams are the most commonly used treatments for eczema. Steroid preparations are very effective and safe when used correctly and relieve itching by reducing skin inflammation. However, using high strength steroid creams for long periods is associated with local side effects such as stretch marks, thinning skin and dilated blood vessels. Generally, you should use the smallest amount and lowest strength that works adequately. Facial skin is particularly susceptible to steroids side effects.
Antibiotics and antiseptics
It is common for skin affected with eczema to be susceptible to bacterial infection. In case of infection, your doctor may prescribe tablets or antibiotic cream to treat the infection. Adding antiseptic solution to your bath water can also prevent and treat skin infections. Make sure the concentration of antiseptic is not too high as it may irritate the skin.