What is Eczema?
Eczema is an inflammatory skin condition which is typically characterized by flare ups of dry, itchy patches of skin. It generally begins during childhood and for some people it will continue to affect them throughout their adult life.
It is believed some suffering with eczema have differences in their genetic makeup which causes sensitivity, or that their immune system is overactive. Other causes point to environmental factors or allergens. (1)
About 30 percent of the U.S population have to cope with eczema, most of these are children and young adults. (2)
There are six different types of eczema; atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, nummular, seborrheic and stasis dermatitis. (3)
When skin is affected by eczema most of the natural moisture escapes. The result is vulnerable skin which needs extra care to stay healthy. (4)
The condition is not contagious, even during flare ups, and for many people the symptoms will show signs of improvement over time. Many children who have eczema are expected to grow out of it, however this doesn’t apply to everyone.
When you have eczema, it’s common to have or develop other conditions such as; hay fever or asthma. It can also make you more prone to possible infections. (5)
This is often the case for people who have atopic dermatitis. This type of eczema is part of a group of skin allergies. And generally affects people whose family has a history of hypersensitivity.
Symptoms are mostly the same across the numerous types, but triggers and locations can differ. Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema, although it is possible to have more than one kind. (6)
Symptoms of eczema generally materializes in episodes and periods of “rest”, where no signs will be visible. After an exposure to a trigger, a rash may occur right away or it can take some time to emerge.
It’s also important to know the triggers so you can avoid them. For many people these can include: irritants (soaps, perfumes), heat and allergies. Stress is not believed to be a cause of eczema, although it can trigger symptoms and exacerbate the urge to scratch. (7)
Physical symptoms of eczema can include:
Eczema will cause the skin to become very itchy. This can be triggered by the missing moisture and the general increased irritability of the skin.
When the urge to scratch is felt, it’s important to resist as much as possible. Scratching can damage the skin even further and may cause a rash. It may even lead to blisters or open sores and bleeding. (8)
When the skin’s protective barrier is compromised, most of the moisture is let out, leaving behind dry skin which is prone to irritation.
This can lead to a rash, where parts of the skin can appear dry, tight and scaly or sometimes swollen. It’s likely to look red and crack easily, especially when scratched.
It can appear anywhere on the body, although it’s common place on backs of knees and ankles, neck or inner elbows and hands. (9)
Blisters generally contain fluid, therefore when they’re scratched for longer periods, they can rupture and leak.
This can result in a crusty skin surface which may also crack. (10)
Rough or Leathery Skin
Over time the texture of the skin can change, especially after flare ups and excessive scratching. The skin is likely to thicken and may develop a rough or leathery texture. (11)
Stage #1 (Infancy)
The first stage typically begins to present signs around two or three months after birth.
It generally starts with a mild rash on the cheeks, which will make them appear red in color, it may also itch after a week or two once the skin forms a crust.
The baby will most likely seem uneasy and agitated, especially during sleep.
Over time, the rash will spread and affect other parts of the body, such as: Inner and outer part of the arms and legs. However, the diaper area will usually not be affected.
For many children the rash will clear up before their second year, but the child might still appear to present signs of asthma.
However, in about half of the cases, children don’t show signs of hypersensitivity to allergens as yet. This will be classified as “non-atopic eczema”.
Stage #2 (Childhood)
A rash will now begin to show on other parts, such as: neck, wrists, ankles and feet. This commonly develops as a follow up from the first stage.
However, also at this stage of life some children may only start experiencing the signs of eczema.
When the inflammation subsides, it can result in loss of pigmentation (color) in the affected areas. In around 60 percent of cases, eczema will run its course during this period.
Stage #3 (Adulthood)
During adolescent and adult years, for some symptoms of eczema will continue to present. Regions of the body include: the inside of the knees, elbows, head and neck.
In some rare cases eczema can make its debut during adult years. Often when this happens, the condition may be chronic and will have phases of severe and mild symptoms.
When it comes to treating eczema, the main focus is to improve the main barrier of the skin and minimize flares of the condition. (14)
Doctors generally recommend you keep track of symptoms and triggers, as well as educating yourself, on eczema management to keep symptoms at bay.
There are different forms of medication available to treat eczema, some will help relax the immune system to reduce frequency of incidences. However, others focus on treating infection and itchy skin.
Some creams or ointments are available, which contain substances to help reduce swelling and prevent inflammation. (15)
Basic therapy involves using special creams to help restore the skin and re-establish natural moisture levels
As we established earlier, moisture is severely depleted from the skin when affected by eczema. Therefore it’s important to use specially designed creams to compensate for the missing fluids.
Other skin care products should also be used to keep the skin healthy. However, always use products which don’t contain allergens or triggers. Many regular products contain perfumes or ingredients which can dry out the skin even more.
This is a type of therapy which can help those with extreme eczema relieve their symptoms such as itching and pain. (16)
It’s recommended to do this after a bath, once moisturizer and medical creams or ointments have been applied.
You wrap the affected areas with a damp piece of fabric, (preferably cotton or gauze), then to seal it, wrap it again with a dry piece (ideally something like food wrap). This should be left on for several hours or during the night.
If the affected part is the face, this relief therapy should be done by trained health care providers.
Always consult a professional before starting this therapy and keep in mind that this is only a quick relief solution.
Prevention is a big factor for treatment. Knowing what your triggers are and trying to avoid them will evidently reduce outbreaks.
What is eczema? Eczema is a condition which affects the skin’s protective barrier.
What are the signs of eczema? The main signs of eczema are dry and itchy skin. Scratching can lead to a rash, which can result in redness and swelling, followed by weeping blisters and rough or leathery skin.
How do you develop eczema? It appears different factors have shown connections to the condition. These include: genetic makeup, allergens, environmental reasons and immune system responses.
How are you diagnosed for eczema? Doctors will start with medical history and a physical examination of the area in question. They will want to know if there are any allergies in the family, recent exposures to possible irritants or other conditions such as hay fever or asthma. Your doctor might do a prick test, where small amounts of allergens will be exposed to the skin. (17)
What is the best treatment for eczema? The best treatment depends on how severe symptoms are. Generally it’s good to keep the skin moisturized with topical creams and ointments. Other treatments will help prevent itching, flares and infections, these can include antihistamines, steroid creams and antibiotics.
What are the long term complications of eczema? When you have eczema, there is an increased risk of contracting different infections or viruses, such as herpes. Permanent scarring from persistent scratching is also potential complication. (18)
Is eczema considered a disability? No, eczema on its own will not be considered a disability.
Is there any cure for eczema? There’s no medical cure, but symptoms can be reduced with the help of treatment and basic skin care. Breastfeeding has been proven to diminish chances of developing eczema. (19)
Is eczema life threatening? Eczema in itself is not life threatening, although it can be chronic and in some cases be a lifelong condition.
Eczema is a common skin condition which mostly affects children. It causes a glitch in the skin’s protective barrier, making it prone to infections and inflammations.
The skin can become extremely irritated and itchy, leading to soreness and discomfort. Symptoms can flare up in waves usually because of a trigger.
Eczema can be a challenging condition to live with for both parents and children alike. However there are treatments and preventive measures available to keep the symptoms at bay. Finding what works best for you or your child can make all the difference.