Eczema also called atopic dermatitis, is a chronic skin condition that causes very dry and itchy, red patches of skin. Eczema bears a striking resemblance to psoriasis, as both conditions are similar in how they present. A dermatologist can determine if you have psoriasis or eczema.
Eczema can strike anywhere on the body, from your scalp to your feet, and most people outgrow this condition when they are young. However, it can progress into adulthood and is common in families that have a history of eczema. Most people with eczema consider it to be quite debilitating from the constant itching, scratching and cracked skin conditions they are forced to endure.
Symptoms of Eczema
Eczema symptoms are most commonly moderate to severely dry skin. The skin will also be very itchy and may crack or bleed. If a person with eczema scratches the inflamed areas, they may also become infected and even pruritic.
Areas of the skin will be inflamed, red and even at times painful, dependent on the areas where the eczema is located and if the skin has become cracked or not. The affected areas can occur anywhere on the body, but particularly are present mostly on feet and hands and in crease areas such as behind the knees or in front of elbows.
Eczema is a possibility when you experience the following symptoms:
- Intense itching
- Dry and scaly skin
- Crusting, flaking, and cracking of the skin
- Oozing lesions and blisters
Healed lesions may sometimes cause temporary skin discoloration, but scarring is unusual.
Common Types of Eczema
There are many types of eczema, each having different symptoms and causes. The most common are the following:
- Atopic eczema. It has a genetic component and runs in families with a history of asthma and hay fever. Rashes usually show on the scalp, face, neck, buttocks, insides of elbows, and behind the knees.
- Contact dermatitis. Its two types are allergic and irritant. Allergic dermatitis, which is also known as exogenous eczema, results from the skin’s reaction to allergens. Irritant dermatitis is brought about by the skin’s reaction to chemicals, such as detergents. 75 percent of contact dermatitis cases are irritant in nature.
- Seborrhoeic dermatitis. It is also known as cradle cap. This type of eczema is common in infants, although adults may contract it too. The rash is greasy and develops on the eyebrows and scalp. Scaly red patches may sometimes appear in adjacent areas.
- Xerotic eczema. It results from the skin that becomes so dry that it develops into eczema. The limbs and the torso are often the affected areas. This condition is more common among older people.
- Varicose eczema. It is associated with varicose veins as its name implies. Poor circulation is also another cause. It usually occurs in the lower legs and is more commonly found in old people.
Causes of Eczema
Eczema has different causes or “triggers” but is common in families with a history of eczema as well as other allergies. Some of these triggers can be obvious, such as having naturally dry skin or being in climates that are cold or dry. Amazingly, stress is a huge trigger for eczema flare-ups, as is being overheated and sweating.
Other causes can be irritation from tangible substances like laundry detergent, or soap and certain fabrics like wool.
Eczema tends to run in families with a history of eczema, asthma or allergies, such as hay fever. Eczema is not contagious but can appear to be so, especially in instances where there is bleeding or oozing. If a child presents with eczema, their chances of growing up with asthma and other allergies are greatly increased.
Additionally, there is no known cure for eczema. However, there are a number of methods used by doctors and dermatologists to help alleviate the symptoms and make the condition more bearable. Hydro-cortisone, steroids, and antibiotics are just a few of the treatment methods employed by medical professionals to treat eczema symptoms.
Eczema is not easy to diagnose since it shows similarities with other skin conditions. In order to diagnose eczema, doctors first make a thorough physical examination of the skin. The patient’s history will also be delved into. In particular, the doctor will ask when it first manifested and what conditions aggravate the swelling. The person will also be asked about his/her family history, current medications, and allergies.
To rule out other skin conditions, a skin biopsy is carried out. A tiny portion of the skin is removed. It is then sent to a pathology laboratory for microscopic inspection.
To find out whether the eczema is caused by an allergic reaction, the doctor may check the antibody levels and cell count of the blood. The blood may also be sent for other tests, such as the Paper Radioimmunosorbent Test (PRIST) or Radioallergosorbent Test (RAST), which measures the changes in the level of antibodies when exposed to specific types of allergens.
Skin patch testing may also be done in order to try to pinpoint what triggers the condition. Suspected irritants are stuck to adhesive patches and applied to the skin. As a control, another patch that has nothing is also applied. The patches are removed after a day or two. If the skin appears red and swollen under the patches containing substances, the result is positive.
Psychological Effects of Eczema
People with eczema, especially those with visible marks, are generally self-conscious and introverted. They are physically fit and can act normally, but they often have low self-esteem. Eczema sufferers are often embarrassed to scratch their skin in public, so they do it in privacy.
Some people also choose to hide the red patches using articles of clothing, such as hats, scarves, and gloves. This temporary solution, instead of helping, can only aggravate eczema because of sweating and constant rubbing.
Prevention of Eczema Flare-ups
By following a few simple precautions, eczema outbreaks can usually be averted. A few suggestions to help lessen the frequency and severity of the inflammation are as follows:
- Avoid having dry skin. Moisturize it often using a fragrance-free moisturizer like petroleum jelly.
- Avoid sudden temperature and humidity changes.
- Avoid perspiring.
- Don’t expose your skin too much to water. Take short baths with warm “not hot” water. Gently pat your skin dry to avoid further irritation. The evaporation of water from skin that has not been immediately wiped dry causes it to lose its moisture.
- Reduce stress. Try to relax and unwind more often.
- Avoid materials that may scratch your skin like wool. Cotton is your best bet.
- Do not use harsh toiletries and solvents.
- Keep away from environmental factors that may prompt allergies (i.e. animal hair, pollen, dust mites, and molds).
- If you have food allergies, avoid eating certain types of food. Some people reported eczema reduction after consuming intense energy fruits like acai berry.