What is Eczema?

Atopic dermatitis, often referred to as eczema, is a common skin condition that appears most often in children, though it can occur in individuals of any age. It causes red, itchy and rashy skin and can also involve respiratory symptoms. It is a chronic condition and, as such, flares up regularly throughout someone’s life. There are many ways of treating and managing the condition so that it does not interfere with a patient’s quality of life.

Signs and Symptoms of Eczema

Eczema can look very different from one individual to the next but some general signs of the condition include:

  • Dry, flaky skin
  • Severe itching, especially at night
  • Red or gray-brown patches on various areas around the body (In infants, it most often appears on the scalp or face)
  • Thick, scaly skin that can crack
  • Raw or swollen skin, often from scratching

Atopic dermatitis most often in small children but can continue into adulthood. While chronic, it can disappear for years at a time.

What Causes Eczema?

In a patient with eczema, a gene variation prevents the skin from providing the usual protections it would perform for itself, including retaining moisture and blocking out irritants, allergens or bacteria. With this protective barrier down, the skin is more readily exposed to irritants and bacteria. Children’s eczema can also be related to certain food allergies. One’s risk of developing eczema increases when there is a family history of the condition or a family history of allergies or asthma.

Environmental Factors Can Affect Eczema

Environmental factors can have an effect on eczema, triggering or exacerbating the condition. Many of these factors are common household products or foods and include irritants and allergens.

Irritants in the environment that can affect eczema include: 

  • Shampoos
  • Disinfectants
  • Detergents
  • Soaps
  • Even some fresh juices, fruits and meats

Allergens in the environment that can affect eczema include: 

  • Pet hair
  • Pollen
  • Mold
  • Dust mites

Some patients may also react to isothiazolinone, which is used as an antibacterial in baby wipes and other bathroom products, as well as a substance used in temporary tattoos.

How Soaps, Skin Creams and Other Cosmetics Affect Eczema

When your skin reacts to a soap, skin cream or cosmetic, it is not the product in a general sense that is causing the reaction but a substance used inside that product that is affecting your eczema. For example, many shampoos and skin lotions use a substance called cocamidopropyl betaine as a thickener to make them more appealing to consumers. For this reason, many patients with eczema must look for soaps, skin creams and cosmetics that do not contain these eczema irritants.

You can work in partnership with your dermatologist to identify which substances in these products irritate your eczema so that you can select the best options for your particular situation.

What is the Difference Between Eczema and Psoriasis?

It can be difficult to tell the difference between eczema and psoriasis for some. Both present as red patchy areas on the skin, but psoriasis typically creates thicker and more irritated patches.

While both are triggered by stress and infection, only eczema is triggered by environmental irritants, such as soap, detergents, allergens and foods.

Psoriasis can be triggered by vaccination, medication and sunburn. Eczema also triggers much more intense itching in many patients, while psoriasis typically presents with a burning sensation.

Is There a Permanent Cure for Eczema?

There is no known cure for eczema at this time but medical science and dermatologists have

developed a wide variety of effective treatments. These treatments can control and alleviate the symptoms associated with eczema, making life with the skin condition much easier for patients.

How the Condition is Treated

Treating eczema most often involves a combination of prescribed and home remedies. Your doctor may recommend the application of corticosteroid creams and ointments. When bacterial infections are present, you may also need to take antibiotics. In the most severe cases, your doctor may also recommend taking corticosteroids that work against inflammation in the body. Home remedies can include applying wet dressings and engaging in relaxation activities. For some patients, receiving light therapy can also be hugely beneficial. Patients experiencing mental or emotional stress from eczema can also consider therapy as a supplementary intervention.

Suggested Treatment Options

All cases of eczema are not the same, therefore we recommend seeing a specialist to help determine which treatment option is the best for you.

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