Atopic eczema is the most common type of eczema and something which is very well known to all of us. Every one of use probably knows someone who is suffering from this condition, if not suffering from it ourselves. Atopic eczema is more likely to affect children and young people but can and does in some cases proliferate into adulthood as well.
An overview of the condition
As with all eczema this is a condition which affects the skin and causes it to become very itchy and dry. This can be extremely irritating and uncomfortable for the sufferer and particularly in young children who are prone to scratching the skin- which just worsens the situation. Atopic eczema tends to occur where there are folds of skin such as behind the knees and where the arm bends and can range from mild to severe.
The cause of atopic eczema is ultimately unknown but evidence shows that it occurs most commonly in those people who suffer from allergies. It is therefore not uncommon to see young children who suffer from asthma or hay fever also suffering from eczema. All these conditions are driven by sensitivities to allergens.
The severity of the symptoms of atopic eczema can vary from person to person however the general symptoms are as follows:
- Itchy and red skin
- Dry skin
- Broken or cracked skin
Atopic eczema symptoms can be present all over the body and normally occur in small patches. The most common places where these are found are as follows:
- On the face and scalp (usually in infants)
- Arms and legs
- Joints such as the knee and inside elbow
It should be noted that scratching the skin can cause bleeding and worsen the overall condition so this is not advisable at all. It is however difficult with infants and small children.
Many sufferers of atopic eczema will experience what is referred to as a “flare up”. This is when the symptoms suddenly become a lot worse and additional and stronger treatment is required.
Although there is no known cause of this condition there are definite triggers which have been identified which worsen the condition or can potentially cause flare ups. One of the biggest triggers is hormones (particularly in women). When women undergo hormonal changes the balance of hormones within the body can cause the symptoms of atopic eczema to become more severe. For example evidence has shown that many women experience a flare up in their eczema just before their period.
Stress is another common trigger which can worsen the symptoms of eczema as it can with many other conditions and ailments. Along with stress and hormonal changes irritants are another big factor in the worsening of eczema symptoms. Such irritants include but are not limited to:
- Certain soaps and detergents
- Certain clothing materials (particularly wool and nylon)
- Cold weather
- Dry weather
Although there is no cure for eczema there is very adequate treatment which can provide great relief and control with regards to the symptoms of this condition. The most common treatment used is a combination of emollients and topical corticosteroids.
Emollients are prescribed by the GP and are to be used at all times for dry skin. These can come in the form of body washes, bath oil, creams and lotions. The patient is advised to use the emollients regularly in order to prevent the dry skin.
The GP will prescribe the lowest strength corticosteroid cream to begin with. This is a very effective way of dealing with the redness, swelling and flare ups caused by atopic eczema. Varying strengths are required for different parts of the body but usually mildly potent steroids are prescribed.