What is eczema?
Eczema is a group of conditions that cause inflammation of the skin. Eczema is a chronic problem for many people, but it's most common in infants, many of whom outgrow it before adulthood. People with eczema have a higher risk of having allergic conditions like asthma or hay fever. Atopic dermatitis is the most common of the many types of eczema.
Signs and Symptoms
Typically, eczema shows itself as: patches of chronically itchy, dry, thickened skin, usually on the hands, neck, face, and legs (but it can occur on any part of the body). In children, the inner creases of the knees and elbows are often involved. If scratched, dry patches of skin and open sores with crusts may develop and may get infected. Eczema comes in many forms, but the different types of eczema tend to cause these symptoms:
- Itching . The itching can be intense. The damage to the skin during eczema is often due to scratching.
- Scaling. The surface of the skin can flake off, giving the skin a rough, scaly appearance.
- Redness. The affected skin may bleed and appear blotchy.
- Fluid-filled blisters. These can ooze and form crusts.
- Cracking. Severely affected skin may develop painful, deep cracks, also called fissures.
Call your doctor about eczema if:
- You develop an itchy rash and have a family history of eczema or asthma.
- The inflammation doesn't respond within a week to treatment with over-the-counter hydrocortisone creams. You may need more aggressive forms of treatment.
- You develop yellowish to light brown crust or pus-filled blisters over existing patches of eczema. This may indicate a bacterial infection that should be treated with an antibiotic.
- During a flare-up of eczema, you are exposed to anyone with a viral skin disease such as cold sores or genital herpes. Having eczema puts you at increased risk of contracting the herpes simplex virus.
- You develop numerous painful, small, fluid-filled blisters in the areas of eczema. You may have eczema herpeticum, a rare but potentially serious complication caused by the herpes simplex virus.
Eczema is not contagious. You or your children can't catch eczema by coming in contact with someone who has it. Eczema runs in families, which suggests a genetic role in eczema's development. Doctors don't know exactly what causes eczema, but a major risk factor is having relatives who have or had eczema, asthma, and/or seasonal allergies. Another factor is the mother's age at time of birth. It's not clear why, but children born to older women are more likely to develop eczema than children born to younger women. The current thinking is that eczema is caused by a combination of factors that include:
- Abnormal function of the immune system
- Activities that may cause skin to be more sensitive
- Defects in the skin barrier that allow moisture out and germs in
A trigger is not something that causes eczema. But it can cause it to flare or make a flare worse. The most common triggers are substances that irritate the skin. Examples of things that can irritate the skin include:
· Contact with irritating substances such as wool, synthetic fabrics, and soap
· Soaps and cleansers
- Dust and sand
- Irritants in the environment
- Cigarette smoke
- Food sensitivities
You want to make sure that the products you are using don’t contain a bunch of other chemicals or irritants that could exacerbate the eczema. Veritas and Keys are a few product brands that are known to be free of added chemicals and are gentle on the skin.
And if you know that foods is a trigger, but can’t seem to figure out what food it may be we offer Food Inflammation Testing (FIT) to help give you an easy guide to what foods you should be avoiding. With an easy finger prick we can see if you have a sensitivity to 132 different foods and additives. Just like eczema flares, food sensitivities can be delayed a few days after exposure so it can be difficult to know what foods are causing a problem for you.
Flares can also be triggered by certain conditions that impact the immune system. For instance, things that can trigger or worsen a flare include:
- Cold or flu
- Bacterial infection
- Allergic reaction to something such as mold, pollen, or pet dander
Actions and environments that cause the skin to dry out or become otherwise sensitive can trigger flares. Some examples include:
- Prolonged exposure to water
- Being too hot or too cold
- Sweating and then becoming chilled
- Taking baths or showers that are too hot or last too long
- Not using a skin lubricant after a bath
- Low humidity in the winter
Living in a climate that is dry year-round
Diagnosis and Treatment
It can be hard to tell for sure if you have eczema. You’ll want to see a dermatologist or other doctor to find out. At your appointment, your doctor will check your skin and talk with you about your symptoms, your health history in general, and any rashes or allergies that run in your family. Based on that information, they'll decide if it’s eczema or something else.
Good skin care is key. If your eczema is mild, that might be all you need, along with some changes in your daily habits. If you have severe eczema, you may need to also take medicine for it. The basics: Use a mild soap or soap substitute that won't dry your skin. You’ll also want a good moisturizer in cream, lotion, or ointment form. Put it on right after a shower or bath, as well as one other time each day. Don’t take very hot or very long showers or baths because they can dry out your skin. Stress management along with getting regular exercise is very important in your daily routine. You can also get a humidifier because the dry air can be stressful for your skin. Eating right, light activity, and adequate sleep will help you stay healthy, which can help prevent flares. Do not expect a quick response. Eczema is easier to control than cure.
If your doctor decides you need medications to treat your eczema, we can work with them to create a compound specifically for you. Other options they may choose include:
- Antihistamines. Ones you take by mouth are available over-the-counter and may help relieve symptoms.
- Corticosteroids. Your doctor may prescribe these if other treatments don’t work.
- Ultraviolet light therapy. This may help if your skin condition is severe.
Treating eczema can be an ongoing challenge, so don’t be afraid to ask for help. Whether it’s finding products that are clean for your skin, cleaning up your diet, or finding a compounded prescription solution we’re here to help.