Eczema also known as atopic dermatitis is the chronic allergic skin disorder. The condition is a hypersensitivity reaction similar to an allergy, causing inflammation of the hands, scalp, face and back.
What Are the Symptoms?
No matter which part of the skin is affected, eczema is almost always itchy. Sometimes the itching will start before the rash appears, and most commonly occurs on the face, knees, hands, or feet, but may also affect other areas.
Affected areas usually appear very dry, thickened, or scaly. In fair-skinned people, these areas may initially appear reddish and then turn brown. Among darker-skinned people, eczema can affect pigmentation, making the affected area lighter or darker.
In infants, the itchy rash can produce an oozing, crusting condition that occurs mainly on the face and scalp, but patches may appear anywhere.
What Causes It?
The exact cause of eczema is unknown, but it's thought to be linked to an overactive response by the body's immune system to an irritant. It is this response that causes the symptoms of the disease. In addition, eczema is commonly found in families with a history of other allergies or asthma.
Some people may suffer "flare-ups" of the itchy rash in response to certain substances or conditions. For some, coming into contact with rough or coarse materials may cause the skin to become itchy. For others, feeling too hot or too cold, exposure to certain household products like soap or detergent, or coming into contact with animal dander may cause an outbreak. Upper respiratory infections or colds may also be triggers. Stress may cause the condition to worsen.
Although there is no cure, most people can effectively manage this condition with treatments and by avoiding irritants. The condition is not contagious and can't be spread from person to person.
How Is It Diagnosed?
A pediatrician, dermatologist, or your primary care provider can make a diagnosis of eczema. Since many people with eczema also suffer from allergies, your doctor may perform allergy tests to determine possible irritants or triggers, especially among children.
The source or cause of eczema is unknown. While genetics and heredity may play a role, it is often related to various forms of dermatitis, which can be triggered by numerous things. Itchy, red, scaly skin often indicates an allergic reaction. Common triggers include pets, plants, laundry detergents, soaps and scented lotions, dust mites, foods (mainly dairy, eggs, nuts, and soy), and drug interactions or side-effects.
Eczema is not particularly hard to diagnose for a physician. It manifests itself anywhere on the body, and in children quite often in the joints (in the creases of the elbows or behind the knees). In adults it often appears in areas like the hands as they are constantly exposed to water or cleaning agents. It can appear as dryness, scaly skin, weeping bumps, and as various other forms. It is very important to have your skin diagnosed by your healthcare provider to determine an exact diagnosis.
There is no cure for eczema, but it is manageable. Delaying treatment, especially in children, can cause excessive itching to the point of bleeding and leading to skin infections. Most children will outgrow eczema by their early teens. Many children that suffer from eczema also suffer from hay fever, allergies, and asthma. It is very important to have your child diagnosed by your healthcare provider.
How Do You Treat Eczema?
Knowledge is key when suffering from any sort of health-related issue. The more you know about what triggers any unpleasant effects to the body, the better you can prevent yourself from suffering. We definitely believe that prevention is better than treatment.
Ever thought about keeping a journal of what you did or ate the day before your eczema flare-up occurred? Normally triggers that cause eczema do not actually manifest themselves as eczematic eruptions until 24-48 hours after exposure. Can you see a trend in your diet or stress levels with your skin condition?
Here are some quick tips about how to care for your skin when it is ultra-sensitive or suffering from eczema:
Limit exposure to soaps, essential oils, scented lotions or creams, solvents, outdoor chemicals, fertilizers, latex, and household cleaning supplies. If exposure does occur, always rinse hands and dry them thoroughly. Dampness can often exaggerate symptoms.
Do not sit in baths, take showers. Limit them to 10 minutes maximum. Use soaps or cleansers ONLY where you need them (groin, armpits, and other fold of skin). Immediately after showering, apply a gentle/mild lotion all over the body. This will help trap in moisture. Do not use oils, especially baby oil or anything with lanolin, essential oils, mineral oils, or any form of petrolatum.
Use a moisturizer everyday.
Itchy skin does not like wool and other synthetic fabrics. Choose natural fibers that breathe, like cotton. If your child itches at night, make sure you use a good mild/gentle lotion on them at night before bed, their nails are cut short, and if the itching is quite troublesome, slip gloves on you child as a precautionary step. Also make sure there are no feathers or down of any sort in their pillow or blankets. Ensure their sheets, quilts and pillowcases are washed regularly with bleach or anything else known to kill dust mites. Do not allow pets into their rooms onto their beds EVER.
If you must work with plants or chemicals all day, wear gloves.