Also referred to as dermatitis, eczema is a condition which affects the dryness of the skin. It is a case-to-case condition, with the experiences of the symptoms and severity varying between individual cases.
Eczema is not contagious so you cannot pass it on to or catch it from someone else.
While eczema can be used to describe a dry skin condition which causes red and itchy skin and scalp, it can also be used to refer to atopic eczema which is a chronic skin condition that starts during a child’s very early years of infancy, and carries on through childhood. While some people do outgrow atopic eczema, others will find that it continues into adulthood.
The different between the two types is that “dermatitis” refers to the inflammation of the skin and “atopic” refers to a variety of diseases which involve the immune system.
Symptoms of eczema
Atopic eczema usually manifests itself in infants with dry and scaly patches which appear on the skin. These patches are often very irritating and itchy. The symptoms of this can vary, depending on the age of the person with atopic eczema.
Most people who develop atopic dermatitis, develop it before around the age of 5. Around 50 per cent of those who develop the condition in their childhood, go om to experience symptoms as an adult, although these symptoms are more-than-not different to those which they experienced as children.
People will often experience periods of time where symptoms do begin to flare up or worsen. This may be then followed by periods of time where the symptoms will lessen or clear up.
Symptoms in infants:
- Rashes that commonly appear on the scalp and/or the cheeks
- Rashes that normally ‘bubble up’ before weeping a fluid
- Rashes that cause extreme itchiness that may end up interfering with sleeping due to the continuous rubbing and scratching, which can also lead to skin infections.
Symptoms in children up to the period of puberty:
- The rashes will normally appear behind the creases of the knees and/or elbows
- Rashes that appear on a child’s neck, wrist, ankle and the crease between the buttocks and legs.
Over a longer period of time, the following symptoms will manifest also:
- Bumpy rashes that resemble goosebumps
- The rashes may lighten or darken in colour
- Rashes can become thicker (known as lichenifiation) and then develop knots and a permanent itch.
Symptoms in adults:
- A rash that cover a large amount of the body
- Rashes that can cause very dry skin
- Rashes with a permeant itch
- Rashes commonly appearing in the creases of the knees, elbow or at the nape of the neck
- It can be the case that rashes are particularly prominent on the face, neck or around the area of the ears.
- Scaly skin caused by the rashes
- Skin infection as a direct cause of rashes
How bad the skin looks depends on who much an individual irritates the rashes further by scratching, picking or rubbing the skin. Furthermore, whether the skin is infected or not will dramatically change its appearance. Constant scratching will make the itchiness worse and furthers the cycle.
Causes of eczema
Like with a lot of medical problems, the exact cause of eczema is still unknown. However, research has led professionals to believe that eczema develops as a result of a combination of hereditary/genetic factors, coupled with factors of environment.
This is thought because children who develop eczema if a parent has/had it also or another kind of atopic disease. If both parents are/were sufferers of eczema or a atopic disease, the chances of the child developing it are increased.
As mentioned, environmental factors can also be the cause of the development of eczema, these factors include things like:
- Allergens – such as dust mites, mould, pets, pollen and dandruff
- Irritants – these could include certain soaps, shampoo and conditioners, disinfectants, washing detergents, fabric conditioner. Also, juices from fruits, meats and vegetables.
- Foods – such as dairy products, eggs, nuts and seeds, wheat, and soy products.
- Extreme temperatures – very cold or very hot weather, as well as high and low humidity.
- Perspiration from exercise.
- Microbes – bacteria like Staphylococcus aureus, viruses, and certain fungi.
- Stress – this one is not actually a cause of eczema, but can make general symptoms a lot worse.
- Hormones – women, specifically, can actually experience their symptoms worsening during times which the hormone levels change, for example at certain points in the menstrual cycle or during pregnancy.
Treatment for eczema
Unfortunately, there is no cure for eczema. However, there is effective treatment which aims to heal skin, relieve symptoms as much as possible, and stunt the possibility of flare ups.
The treatment will vary between individual cases based on age, current state or health and severity and types of symptoms experienced.
Eczema can be experienced as a temporary condition for some people, and for others it can be a long-term and lifelong condition.
Whilst eczema may not be covered by your health insurance, there are some ways to get diagnostic treatment covered to set up an appointment and see what is wrong.
Things you can do at home:
- Moisturising each and every day.
- Moisturising straight after taking a bath or a shower to help “lock in” moisture.
- Avoiding hot or cold baths – but rather, taking lukewarm baths.
- Using a mild soap or a non-soap cleanser when washing.
- Only air-drying or if necessary, patting the skin dry with a towel very gently. Never rub the skin after bathing.
- Wearing softer fabrics like cotton, and avoiding tight-fitting clothes with rough textures.
- Keeping the fingernails cut short to avoid the breakage of the skin when scratching.
As well as things a person can do to help themselves at home, there are a variety of medications that a doctor can prescribe to ease symptoms. Most commonly, these will come in the form of a cream or an ointment that are applied to the affected areas.