Eczema (eg-zuh-MUH) is the name for a group of conditions that cause the skin to become red, itchy and inflamed. Eczema is very common. In fact, more than 30 million Americans have some form of eczema. Eczema is not contagious. You can’t “catch it” from someone else. While the exact cause of eczema is unknown, researchers do know that people who develop eczema do so because of a combination of genes and environmental triggers. When an irritant or an allergen from outside or inside the body “switches on” the immune system, it produces inflammation. It is this inflammation that causes the symptoms common to most types of eczema. Though there are several distinct types of eczema, it is possible to have more than one type at a time.All types of eczema cause itching and redness, but some may also cause your skin to blister, “weep,” or peel.
The specific cause of eczema remains unknown, but it is believed to develop due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Eczema is not contagious. Children are more likely to develop eczema if a parent has had the condition or another atopic disease. If both parents have an atopic disease, the risk is even greater.
- Environmental factors are also known to bring out the symptoms of eczema, such as:
- Irritants: These include soaps, detergents, shampoos, disinfectants, juices from fresh fruits, meats, or vegetables.
- Allergens: Dust mites, pets, pollens, mould, and dandruff can lead to eczema.
- Microbes: These include 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 can bring out eczema.
- Foods: Dairy products, eggs, nuts and seeds, soy products, and wheat can cause eczema flare-ups.
- Stress: This is not a direct cause of eczema but can make symptoms worse.
- Hormones: Women can experience increased eczema symptoms at times when their hormone levels are changing, for example during pregnancy and at certain points in the menstrual cycle.
Types of Eczema
There are many different types of eczema Allergic contact dermatitis: This is a skin reaction following contact with a substance or allergen that the immune system recognizes as foreign.
- Dyshidrotic eczema: This is an irritation of the skin on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. It is characterized by blisters.
- Neurodermatitis: This forms scaly patches of skin on the head, forearms, wrists, and lower legs.
- It is caused by a localized itch, such as an insect bite.
- Nummular eczema: These show as circular patches of irritated skin that can be crusted, scaly, and itchy.
- Seborrheic eczema: This forms oily, scaly, yellowish patches of skin, usually on the scalp and face.
- Stasis dermatitis: This is a skin irritation of the lower leg usually related to circulatory problems.
There is no cure for eczema. Treatment for the condition aims to heal the affected skin and prevent flare-ups of symptoms. Doctors will suggest a plan of treatment based on an individual's age, symptoms, and current state of health. For some people, eczema goes away over time. For others, it remains a lifelong condition. Home care There are numerous things that people with eczema can do to support skin health and alleviate symptoms, such as:
- Taking lukewarm baths
- Applying moisturizer within 3 minutes of bathing to "lock-in" moisture
- Moisturizing every day
- Wearing cotton and soft fabrics, and avoiding rough, scratchy fibres 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
- Whenever possible, avoiding rapid changes in temperature and activities that make you sweat
- Learning and avoiding individual eczema triggers
- Using a humidifier in dry or cold weather
- Keeping fingernails short to prevent scratching from breaking the skin
There are several medications that doctors can prescribe to treat the symptoms of eczema, including:
- Topical corticosteroid creams and ointments: These are a type of anti-inflammatory medication and should relieve the main symptoms of eczema, such as skin inflammation and itchiness. They are applied directly to the skin.
- Systemic corticosteroids: If topical treatments are not effective, systemic corticosteroids can be prescribed. These are either injected or taken by mouth, and they are only used for short periods of time.
- Antibiotics: These are prescribed if eczema occurs alongside a bacterial skin infection.
- Antiviral and antifungal medications: These can treat fungal and viral infections that occur.
- Antihistamines: These reduce the risk of nighttime scratching as they can cause drowsiness.
- Topical calcineurin inhibitors: This is a type of drug that suppresses 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: This involves exposure to ultraviolet A or B waves, alone or combined. The skin will be monitored carefully. This method is normally used to treat moderate dermatitis. Even though the condition itself is not yet curable, there should be a particular treatment plan to suit each person with different symptoms. Even after an area of skin has healed, it is important to keep looking after it, as it may easily become irritated again.