The term eczema refers to a set of medical conditions which cause inflammation or irritation of skin. The most common type of eczema is termed as atopic eczema or atopic dermatitis. Atopic means a cluster of diseases with a usually inherited tendency to suffer from other allergic conditions, like hay fever and asthma.
In the US alone, around 10% to 20% of infants and around 3% of children and adults are affected by eczema. Most infants outgrow the condition when they reach the age of 10, while some individuals continue having symptoms on and off for their entire life. However, the disease can be controlled with proper treatment. Especially if you beware of dry skin,you can manage eczema well.
Symptoms of Eczema
The major symptom of eczema is itchiness of skin. Sometimes itching starts before the appearance of rashes. The rash appears most commonly on face, hands, wrists, back of knees or feet. It also affects other areas.
When affected by eczema, the skin appears very dry, thick or scaly. In fair-skinned individuals, the affected areas look reddish first and then they turn brown, while in dark-skinned individuals, eczema may affect pigmentation and the affected area turns lighter or darker.
In infants, there is a possibility of the itchy rash producing a crusting and oozing condition that appears mainly in the scalp and on face. However, patches may appear everywhere.
Causes of Eczema
The cause of eczema is not known yet. However it is thought that eczema is an overactive response of the immune system of the body to an irritant.
Besides, eczema commonly occurs in families having a history of asthma or other allergies. Also the skin barrier defects can allow germs in and moisture out.
There seems to be a vast variation in the causes of dry itchy skin in different people. Some people develop itchy rash because of specific substances or conditions, while some others develop them after getting in touch with some coarse material. For some others, exposure to certain soaps or detergents, extreme heat or cold or contact with animal dander may cause itchy rash. In some patients, upper respiratory tract infections may trigger the condition and stress can worsen the condition.
Though there is no definite cure, most patients can control the disease with medical treatment and by keeping away from irritants. Good thing is eczema is not contagious.
Treatment of eczema aims at relieving and preventing itching, which can cause infection. Since the skin becomes dry and itchy, creams and lotions are prescribed to keep skin moist. They are usually applied on damp skin, e.g. after a bath, to help skin hold moisture. Itching can also be relieved by cold compresses.
OTC products like hydrocortisone 1% cream or prescription ointments and creams containing corticosteroids are also usually prescribed to reduce inflammation. And if the affected area is infected, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics too.
Other treatments are antihistamines to reduce harsh itching, tar treatments, phototherapy (using UV rays) and drug cyclosporine for those who don’t respond to other treatments.
Prevention of Flare-ups of Eczema
Some simple measures can prevent or lessen eczema outbreaks, like:
Frequent moisturizing of skin
Avoid abrupt changes in humidity and temperature
Avoid overheating and sweating
Avoid scratchy material like wool
Avoid strong soaps, solvents and detergents
Keep an eye on foods that cause the outbreak and avoid them
Thus, though you cannot completely cure your eczema, you can control it well and improve your quality of life.