Eczema is also called atopic dermatitis and it represents a condition that makes the skin red and itchy. Eczema is commonly encountered in children. However, atopic dermatitis can appear at any age. When it is a long lasting condition, it becomes chronic. It tends to flare periodically and then subside. Sometimes, eczema can be accompanied by asthma or hay fever.
There is no radical cure for atopic dermatitis. There are however various treatments and self-care measures that can help relieve the itching and prevent new outbreaks. Furthermore, some quick facts about this condition are the following:
- Certain foods such as nuts and dairy can trigger symptoms.
- Eczema can also be triggered by environmental factors like smoke and pollen.
- Treatment focuses on healing damaged skin and alleviating the symptoms.
- Eczema is not a contagious condition.
What The Symptoms?
Eczema can affect different parts of the skin. One important symptom is that it is always itchy. There are persons for whom the itching starts before the rash. When the rash and itching appear, they appear on the face, back of the knees, wrists, hands or feet.
Once the rash is installed, the affected areas usually get dry, thickened or scaly. In fair-skinned people, these areas may initially appear reddish and then turn brown. On the other hand, when it comes to darker-skinned people, eczema can affect pigmentation, making the affected area lighter or darker.
The most common symptoms that appear in case of eczema are the following:
- Itching, which may be severe, especially at night
- Red to brownish-gray patches, especially on the hands, feet, ankles, wrists, neck, upper chest, eyelids, inside the bend of the elbows and knees, and, in infants, the face, and scalp
- Small, raised bumps, which may leak fluid and crust over when scratched
- Thickened, cracked, dry, scaly skin
- Raw, sensitive, swollen skin from scratching
Most Frequent Causes of Eczema
So far, there are no clear causes that trigger eczema. However, it is believed that it develops due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. As already mentioned, the most likely types of persons to develop eczema are the children. Usually, it appears in children when their parent has had it or another atopic disease. Obviously, when both parents have developed an atopic disease, the chances that their child could have it are bigger.
The most frequent environmental factors that cause eczema are the following:
- Irritants – soaps, detergents, shampoos, disinfectants, juices from fresh fruits, meats, or vegetables.
- Allergens – dust mites, pets, pollens, mold, and dandruff.
- Microbes – bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, viruses, and certain fungi.
- Hot and cold temperatures – very hot or cold weather, high and low humidity, and perspiration from exercise.
- Foods – dairy products, eggs, nuts and seeds, soy products, and wheat.
- Stress – it is not a cause of eczema but can make symptoms worse.
- Hormones – women can experience worsening of eczema symptoms at times when their hormone levels are changing, for example during pregnancy and at certain points in their menstrual cycle.
When Should You See the Doctor?
You should go and see your doctor if some of the following situations appear:
- You’re so uncomfortable that you are losing sleep or are distracted from your daily routines
- Your skin is painful
- You suspect your skin is infected (red streaks, pus, yellow scabs)
- You’ve tried self-care steps without success
- You think the condition is affecting your eyes or vision
Moreover, it is very important to take your child to the doctor if you notice one of the above-mentioned signs or symptoms. Moreover, if you suspect that your kid’s rash has infected and he or she has a fever, then you should immediately seek your doctor.
Eczema can also provoke other complications that affect our health:
- Asthma and hayfever are considered to precede eczema;
- Chronic itchy, scaly skin. A skin condition called neurodermatitis (lichen simplex chronicus) starts with a patch of itchy skin. You scratch the area, which makes it even itchier. Eventually, you may scratch simply out of habit. This condition can cause the affected skin to become discolored, thick and leathery.
- Skin infections. Repeated scratching that breaks the skin can cause open sores and cracks. These increase your risk of infection from bacteria and viruses, including the herpes simplex virus.
- Eye problems. Signs and symptoms of eye complications include severe itching around the eyelids, eye watering, inflammation of the eyelid (blepharitis) and inflammation of the eyelid (conjunctivitis).
- Irritant hand dermatitis. This especially affects people whose work requires that their hands are often wet and exposed to harsh soaps, detergents, and disinfectants.
- Allergic contact dermatitis. This condition is common in patients with atopic dermatitis. Many substances can cause an allergic skin reaction, including corticosteroids, drugs often used to treat people with atopic dermatitis.
- Sleep problems. The itch-scratch cycle can cause you to awaken repeatedly and decrease the quality of your sleep.
- Behavioral problems. Studies show a link between atopic dermatitis and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, especially if a child is also losing sleep.
How Is Eczema Diagnosed?
It is not necessary to do any lab tests in order to help your doctor determine atopic dermatitis. He will examine your skin and review your medical history. Moreover, the doctor will most likely use patch testing or other tests to identify if you are suffering from other skin conditions that can accompany your eczema.
Before you go and see the doctor, it is very important how you prepare for your appointment. Here are some things that you can do when you speak with your doctor:
- List your signs and symptoms, when they occurred and how long they lasted. Also, it may help to list factors that triggered or worsened your symptoms — such as soaps or detergents, tobacco smoke, sweating, or long, hot showers.
- Make a list of all the medications, vitamins, supplements and herbs you’re taking. Even better, take the original bottles and a written list of the dosages and directions.
- List questions to ask your doctor. Ask questions when you want something clarified.
Treatments for Eczema
As we already mentioned, there is no treatment for eczema. However, the doctors recommend several treatments that will heal the affected skin and prevent flaring of the symptoms. Depending on your age, symptoms and current state of health, the doctors will suggest a treatment plan.
For some people, eczema goes away over time, and for others, it remains a lifelong condition.
Home care Treatment
There are numerous things that people with eczema can do to support skin health and alleviate symptoms right in the comfort of their home:
- Taking lukewarm baths.
- Applying moisturizer within 3 minutes of bathing to “lock in” moisture.
- Moisturizing every day.
- Wearing cotton and soft fabrics, avoiding rough, scratchy fibers, and tight-fitting clothing.
- Using a mild soap or a non-soap cleanser when washing.
- Air drying or gently patting skin dry with a towel, rather than rubbing the skin dry after bathing.
- Avoiding rapid changes of temperature and activities that make you sweat (where possible).
- Learning individual eczema triggers and avoiding them.
- Using a humidifier in dry or cold weather.
- Keeping fingernails short to prevent scratching from breaking skin.
The doctors can also prescribe several medications that will treat the symptoms of eczema:
- Topical corticosteroid creams and ointments should relieve the main symptoms of eczema, such as skin inflammation and itchiness.
- If ineffective, systemic corticosteroids can be prescribed for a short period. These are either injected or taken by mouth;
- Antibiotics if there is an overlying bacterial skin infection.
- Medications to treat fungal and viral infections if present.
- Antihistamines that cause drowsiness are often recommended as these can help to reduce the risk of nighttime scratching.
- Topical calcineurin inhibitors used to suppress the activities of the immune system; it decreases inflammation and helps prevent flare-ups.
- Barrier repair moisturizers – these reduce water loss and work to repair the skin.
- Phototherapy can be prescribed to treat mild to moderate dermatitis. It involves exposure to ultraviolet A or B waves, alone or combined. The skin will be monitored carefully.
Even though the condition itself is not yet curable, there can be implemented a treatment plan that will cure each case.