If your skin is dry, itchy, cracked, red, and/or inflamed, you might have eczema, which is otherwise known as atopic dermatitis. This blog will discuss causes, symptoms, and treatment of eczema.
What Is Eczema?
Eczema or atopic dermatitis is a noncontagious, inflammatory skin condition that is characterized by severe itching, redness, oozing, and scaly rashes.
Eczema is very normal, very common, and very, very uncomfortable. It can affect your quality of life and can keep you from sleeping, distract you, and make you feel self-conscious in public.
Eczema is more common in children, often developing before their first birthday.
Eczema is actually the most common childhood skin disorder in developed countries, affecting 15 to 20 percent of young children.
But it may also develop for the first time in adults. It’s usually a long-term (chronic) condition, although it can improve significantly, or even clear completely in some children as they get older.
Symptoms of Eczema
Eczema causes the skin to become itchy, dry, cracked and sore. Some people only have small patches of dry skin, but others may experience widespread inflamed skin all over the body. Symptoms could be keeping you awake at night, making it hard to complete daily tasks, skin is peeling, prickling, blistering or weeping fluids or getting thick and scaly.
Inflamed skin can become red on lighter skin, and darker brown, purple or grey on darker skin. This can also be more difficult to see on darker skin.
Although atopic eczema can affect any part of the body, it most often affects the hands, insides of the elbows, backs of the knees and the face and scalp in children.
People with atopic eczema usually have periods when symptoms are less noticeable, as well as periods when symptoms become more severe (flare-ups).
Types of Eczema
As mentioned above, Eczema can manifest in many different forms on the skin.
The name eczema actually refers to a group of skin conditions that cause dry, irritated skin.
Other types of eczema include:
- Discoid Eczema: A type of eczema that occurs in circular or oval patches on the skin.
- Contact Dermatitis: A type of eczema that occurs when the body comes into contact with a particular substance.
- Dyshidrotic Eczema (pompholyx): A type of eczema that causes tiny blisters to erupt across the palms of the hands.
- Varicose Eczema: A type of eczema that most often affects the lower legs and is caused by problems with the flow of blood through the leg veins.
- Sebhorrhoeic Eczema: A type of eczema where red, scaly patches develop on the sides of the nose, eyebrows, ears and scalp.
Causes of Eczema
Eczema is caused by a combination of immune system activation, genetics, environmental triggers and stress.
- Your immune system. If you have eczema, your immune system overreacts to small irritants or allergens (“atopic means sensitivity to allergens”) . This overreaction can inflame your skin.
- Your genetics. You’re more likely to have eczema if there is a history of dermatitis in your family. You’re also at a higher risk if there’s a history of asthma, allergens and/or hay fever. Allergens are substances like pollen, pet hair or foods that trigger an allergic reaction. Also, there might be a change in your genes that control a protein that helps your body maintain healthy skin. Without normal levels of that protein, your skin will not be completely healthy.
- Your environment. There is a lot in your environment that can irritate your skin. Some examples include exposure to tobacco smoke, air pollutants, harsh soaps and detergents, fabrics such as wool and some skin products. Low humidity (dry air) can cause your skin to become dry and itchy. Heat and high humidity can cause sweating and that can make the itchiness even worse.
- Your stress levels. Your stress levels can cause or worsen your eczema. There are mental/emotional signs of stress and physical signs of stress.
Allergy tests are not usually needed, although they’re sometimes helpful in identifying whether a food allergy may be triggering symptoms.
Treatment for atopic eczema can help to relieve the symptoms and many cases improve over time.
But there’s currently no cure and severe eczema often has a significant impact on daily life, which may be difficult to cope with physically and mentally.
There’s also an increased risk of skin infections.
Many different treatments can be used to control symptoms and manage eczema, including:
- Self-care techniques, such as reducing scratching and avoiding triggers.
- Emollient (moisturizing creams or treatments) – used on a daily basis.
- Topical corticosteroids can be used to reduce swelling, redness and itching during flare-ups.
How to Reduce Eczema Symptoms
Stress can be a common trigger for eczema as it causes a spike in the hormone cortisol (sometimes called the stress hormone). When your body produces high amounts of cortisol, your skin can often struggle.
Try these tips to reduce stress:
- Count to ten as you take a deep breath
- Exercise daily
- Try not to drink as much caffeine and alcohol
- Sleep eight hours a night
- Eat healthy
- Try to have a positive attitude
- Journal every day
- Talk about your life with friends, family and a therapist
When to Seek Medical Advice for Eczema
See your health provider if you have symptoms of atopic eczema. They’ll usually be able to diagnose atopic eczema by looking at your skin and asking questions, such as:
- Is the rash itchy?
- When did the symptoms first begin?
- Does the rash come and go over time?
- Is there a history of atopic eczema in your family?
- Do you have any other conditions, such as asthma or allergies?
- Do you think your diet or lifestyle may be contributing to your symptoms?
Questions to Ask Your Dermatologist About Eczema
- How can you tell that I have eczema?
- If I don’t have eczema, what other skin condition might I have?
- Is there a specific brand of moisturizer that you recommend?
- Is there a prescription cream that you can prescribe?
- How often should I see a dermatologist regarding my eczema?
- What soaps, lotions, makeup, etc. should I avoid?
- What medications do you recommend?
- What at-home treatments do you recommend?
Typically, to be diagnosed with atopic eczema you should have had an itchy skin condition in the last 12 months and three or more of the following:
- Visibly irritated red skin in the creases of your skin – such as the insides of your elbows or behind your knees (or on the cheeks, outsides of elbows, or fronts of the knees in children aged 18 months or under) at the time of examination by a health professional.
- A history of skin irritation occurring in the same areas mentioned above.
- Generally dry skin in the last 12 months.
- A history of hay fever or asthma – children under four must have an immediate relative, such as a parent, brother or sister, who has 1 of these conditions.
- The condition started before the age of two (this does not apply to children under the age of four).
Living with eczema can be challenging. There may be times when your eczema disappears. This is known as a “remission” period. Other times you may have a “flare-up,” which is when it gets worse.
The goal of treatment is to prevent such flare-ups, preventing your symptoms from getting worse. Be sure to avoid triggers, moisturize with George’s Special Dry Skin Cream (recommended by physicians, pharmacists and dermatologists) to calm, soothe, and hydrate your skin, take your medicine, and do anything else your healthcare provider recommends.
THIS CONTENT DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. This website serves the purpose of providing general information and does not in any way replace or substitute professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional regarding your health. If you think you may have a medical emergency, contact your doctor immediately or call 911.