Eczema is term for a group of medical conditions that cause the skin to become inflamed or irritated.
The most common type of eczema is known as atopic dermatitis, or atopic eczema. Intensely itchy patches form. These patches can be widespread or limited to a few areas. Scratching often leads to redness, swelling, cracking, “weeping” of clear fluid, crusting, and scaling of the skin. Constant scratching can cause skin damage, infection, and sleep loss.
According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, the prevalence of atopic eczema is increasing and affects 10 to 20% of children and 1 to 3% of adults. While many infants who develop the condition outgrow it by their second birthday, some people continue to experience symptoms on and off throughout life. With proper treatment, the disease can be controlled in the majority of sufferers.
Causes of Eczema
The exact cause of eczema is unknown, but it’s thought to be linked to an overactive response by the body’s immune system. Foods, environmental factors such as lotions, jewelry, certain fabrics, can cause irritation that leads to eczema. Foods do not directly cause eczema, but several studies suggest that certain food sensitivities are associated with infantile and childhood atopic dermatitis. There is some evidence that avoiding foods to which there is a known sensitivity may reduce the severity and extent of atopic dermatitis, but the reason for this is difficult to establish. Common foods that can cause problems include milk products, nuts, and shellfish.
Eczema is also commonly found in families with a history of other allergies or asthma. Stress may cause symptoms to worsen.
First, seek the advice of a dermatologist to be sure it is atopic eczema. Several other skin conditions have similar symptoms. Without an accurate diagnosis, attempts to treat it may not work.
The goal of treatment for eczema is to relieve and prevent itching, which can lead to infection. Since the disease makes skin dry and itchy, lotions and creams are recommended, if they are not a known cause of irritation. These solutions are usually applied when the skin is damp, such as after bathing, to help the skin retain moisture.
- Cold compresses may also be used to relieve itching.
- Over-the-counter products — such as hydrocortisone — or prescription creams and ointments containing stronger corticosteroids are often prescribed to reduce inflammation. In addition, if the area becomes infected, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection.
- Other eczema treatments include antihistamines to reduce severe itching and phototherapy (therapy using ultraviolet light applied to the skin).