GPs in London have discovered that the number of people who are afflicted by eczema has increased in recent years. It is safe to say that eczema is a common problem for many people considering that it affects 28 millions of people of all ages. The vast majority of people suffering from eczema are exasperated by their health condition. They feel a strong feeling of embarrassment, the disease attracting unwanted attention. Whether it is temporary or for the rest of their life, eczema sufferers can feel safe knowing that there are treatment options.


Eczema: Overview & Facts

Eczema, or dermatitis, is a medical term used to describe a health problem where the skin becomes swollen, irritated, red, damaged, rough and uneven. Attention needs to be paid to the fact that eczema is not a singular medical condition, but a group of skin conditions. Therefore, there are many types of eczema, all of them causing similar symptoms. The illnesses that people need to know about are:

  • Atopic dermatitis
  • Hand eczema
  • Contact eczema
  • Discoid eczema
  • Seborrhoeic dermatitis
  • Stasis dermatitis
  • Dyshidrotic eczema
  • Neurodermatitis

Each form has its own signs and symptoms. The most common form of skin disease is atopic dermatitis. Atopic means that the medical condition has the tendency to cause allergic reactions. Atopic eczema is uncomfortable and it can become less intense for no apparent reason.

Eczema occurs mostly in newborns and very young children. Concerning adults, only 3 percent of them are affected by this skin disease. Infants and kids develop eczema due to a combination of genes and environmental allergens. The matter of the fact is that infantile eczema is not contagious. Only when the skin becomes infected can the illness spread. The skin disease unfolds on the face, on the lateral side of the elbows, and on the knees. When it comes to children and adults, the rash is more likely to appear on the arms, feet, and the back of the knees.


Symptoms & Diagnosis of Eczema

What are the signs and symptoms of eczema? These are the predominant signs and symptoms:

  • Itching or pruritus (it becomes more severe at nighttime)
  • Rough, thick skin
  • Rash that causes red to brownish patches to develop on the skin. The bumps have different sizes and if they are scratched, liquid leaves from them and they become crusty.
  • Skin fissures

Patients may have all of these symptoms or only a couple of them. As mentioned before, each type of eczema has its own set of symptoms, as follows.

  • Atopic dermatitis: redness, itching, dry skin, painful fissures behind the ear, fluid-filled blisters
  • Hand eczema: cracks on the hands, fingers, and feet, pain, flushing of the skin
  • Contact eczema: inflammation, burning, or sensitivity; stinging, hives, scaly skin
  • Discoid eczema: coin-shaped epithelial lesions on hands, arms, legs, and torso; oozing sores, swelling or burning
  • Seborrhoeic dermatitis: dandruff on the head, eyebrows, hair, mustache or beard; white or yellowish flakes, redness
  • Stasis dermatitis: open, bleeding sores (ulcers); skin discolorations, leg inflammation, scaling
  • Dyshidrotic eczema: pain, peeling off, redness, pruritus, fluid-filled blisters
  • Neurodermatitis: dark patches on the skin, scaly texture of the affected areas, itch that makes it almost impossible to sleep

Eczema diagnosis is simple. To be more precise, the medical practitioner does not need a test to identify the skin disorder. It is enough for the doctor to examine the skin and get the family and medical history. What the trained professional takes into consideration are the important features, that is, the signs and symptoms that are present in most cases, as well as the onset of the disease, the place on the body where the dermatitis develops, and contact with irritants.


Eczema Symptoms & Diagnosis


What Causes eczema?

Eczema is an idiopathy, which means that it does not have a known cause. GPs believe that the skin condition is connected with an overactive immune response. They basically think that the immune system strives to protect the body from irritants, more often than not to the proteins that are part of the body. Researchers, for their part, are of the opinion that the cause of eczema lies in a mixture of environmental and genetic factors. The genetics of eczema are not fully understood. What can be said for sure is that many genes are involved in the development of this illness.

Dermatitis can be triggered by environmental factors like:

  • Allergens: shampoos, detergents, disinfectants, vegetables
  • Bacteria, viruses, fungi
  • Foreign substances: dust mites, pollen, dandruff, mold
  • Hormones
  • Stress
  • Foods: nuts, dairy, etc.

Having dry skin can actually make eczema worse, which is the reason why it is important for patients to moisturize. The skin barrier is destroyed and the result is that the skin is hypersensitive to irritants, foreign substances, microbes, and so on and so forth. The products that people can choose from are lotions, creams, and ointments.


Treatment & Care for Eczema

Treatment for eczema is realized only when there is solid evidence that someone has dermatitis. The therapy involves using anti-inflammatory medication. These medications typically contain hydrocortisone steroids that have the power to relieve itching and reduce epithelial inflammation. Drugs practically work by suppressing the immune system. The good thing about anti-inflammatory medications is that they do not cause the thinning of the skin. Should the medical practitioner identify a bacterial infection on the skin, then oral medication is prescribed as well.

Emollients are an important part of the dermatitis treatment, even when it is under control. They hydrate the skin and help prevent water loss. By emollients, it should be understood non-cosmetic moisturizers. It may be necessary to apply the emollient 2 to 3 times a day just to keep the skin from becoming dry. Emollients are available as sprays, lotions, creams, bath oils, soap substitutes, etc.

In cases of severe eczema, patients are administered calcineurin inhibitors, which are drugs that impact the immune system. These medications are used to treat chronic inflammatory skin diseases when other treatments have failed. The calcineurin inhibitors are available as cream and it is important to mention that they can be purchased only with a medical prescription. Calcineruin inhibitors include voclosporin, tacrolimus, cyclosporine, and pimecrolimus.

Allergy shots are not administered for eczema. While it is true that it is important for patients to have a strong immune system, immunotherapy does not provide positive results in this situation. Allergy shots can be done only when the dermatitis is under control.

It is of paramount importance to treat eczema early. The reason for this is that patients have the opportunity to eliminate the disease completely. The longer they wait, the harder it is to treat the dermatitis. Complications can arise as well. Examples include asthma and hay fever. The list does not end here, though. Many complications can arise from an untreated skin disorder.

Eczema can be persistent. In other words, patients may be required to undergo various treatments over months or years. The therapies can cause irritation and they can disrupt one’s life. People need to understand that there is no cure for eczema. The great news is that researchers are on the path to discovering what triggers eczema. At the present moment, there is no solution to the problem. If the skin condition does not last for a long period of time, it certainly comes back.

For those who have sensitive skin, it is recommended to take good care of themselves. In order to control the disease, it is necessary to:

  • Limit scratching in some areas: Not only does scratching make the itch caused by the eczema worse, but also damages the skin and can possibly cause infection. It is therefore important to resist the temptation to scratch oneself and massage the skin mildly. Equally important is to cover the areas of the rash.
  • Avoid extreme temperatures: Studies as well as patient reports have proved that extreme temperatures lead to outbreaks of the disease. While it is not necessary to relocate to another place, it is best to stay away from environments that are too hot or too cold.
  • Wear cotton clothing and bed lining: Clothing materials do have a direct impact on dermatitis. Cotton is derived from natural fibers and it absorbs moisture and sweat.


Living with Eczema

Living with eczema is anything but easy. People who suffer from this chronic skin condition struggle to keep it under control. They have the rash for the rest of their lives, not to mention that it is unattractive. Reactions to foods and environmental triggers are unforeseeable. Consequently, eczema makes socializing harder. It takes a great many years to recover from the frustration and control the disease. The hardest part for patients is learning how to live with it. Living with eczema is equal to feeling relaxed and confident in one’s manner.

Is it possible to live a full and happy life? Many eczema sufferers have proved that it is possible. Regardless of the fact that the chronic skin condition is mild or severe, it is ultimately part of one’s experience and, by making the right lifestyle changes, it can be successfully managed. What people can do is take vitamins, particularly vitamin C, and probiotics, which work well for children and adults alike. However, it is advisable to check with one’s GP before trying these natural treatments.


How to Prevent Eczema

Despite the fact that there is no quick fix for eczema, but, fortunately, there is a way to prevent eczema. One thing that people can do is engage in physical exercise. Exercise induces an overall state of calmness, which is essential taking into consideration that emotional stress is one of the most dangerous triggers. Another thing that people can do is maintain a proper level of humidity within their homes. Since the dryness of the air affects the humidity of the skin, it is useful to use a dehumidifier.

Specialists recommend using a SPF cream, even during wintertime. Sun exposure ages the skin and raises the risk for dermatitis. UV rays are able to penetrate during clouds, which is the reason why it is recommended to wear sunscreen, regardless of the time of the year. UV rays destroy collagen and elastic tissue, so those who have a chronic skin condition need to use a SPF cream.


Is Eczema Contagious?

Until this point, it is clear that infant eczema is not contagious. But what about adult eczema? Just as in the case of young children, the disease is not transmissible. So, it is not like a cold. Unfortunately, it can spread from one person to the other if the skin is infected. In this case, the infecting agent is the contagious one. The reason why it appears that the disease is transmissible is that people come in contact with irritants, like perfume. The person is not contagious, but the products they apply to their skin.

Eczema cannot be passed from one person to the other, but parents can pass the genetic mutation without having outbreaks themselves. The risk for developing an inflammatory skin disease is directly linked to genes. Doing a genetic test is not mandatory, but it can turn out to be useful for parents who want to protect their little ones.


Eczema Prognosis

It is only normal to want to know what the prognosis of eczema is. What is important to understand is that the forecast is affected by the type of illness and the response to the medical treatment. As a rule, patients respond well to the therapy prescribed by the dermatologist. If the agent causing the dermatitis is identified, then the problem can be fixed within a matter of weeks. In a few patients, eczema becomes chronic, meaning that recurrences are totally possible.

It is not within the bounds of possibility to clearly predict the course of eczema, but it is certain that certain factors determine a more destructive development. Unquestionably, it is necessary to do further investigation into this health problem, so as to be able to determine if it worth trying certain treatments or to abandon them completely. This is, nevertheless, a job for trained professionals in the medical field.


Last updated on March 2nd, 2018

Chris Riley

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