Eczema is a group of inflammatory and non contagious conditions where patches of skin become dry, itchy, cracked, and rough; with some forms of it also causing blisters. Many people use the word eczema when referring to atopic dermatitis, which is the most common type of this condition. About 15 million people in the U.S. suffer from some form of eczema, including 10-20% of all infants.
What do symptoms of eczema look like?
Common symptoms in babies (under 2 years of age) appear as:
- rashes on the scalp and cheeks
- rashes that bubble up before leaking fluid
- rashes that can cause extreme itchiness, which may interfere with sleeping
Common symptoms in children (over 2 years of age) appear as:
- rashes that appear in the creases of elbows or knees
- rashes that appear on neck, wrists, ankles, and crease between the buttocks and legs
- bumpy rashes
- rashes that can become lighter or darker
- areas of thickened skin from constant scratching or rubbing, which can develop into a permanent itch
Common symptoms in adults appear as:
- rashes that are more scaly than those occurring in children
- rashes that appear in the creases of elbows or knees or the nape of neck
- rashes that cover much of the body
- very dry skin on the affected areas
- rashes that are permanently itchy
- skin infections
What causes eczema?
The specific cause of eczema remains unknown, but many medical professionals believe that it develops due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Children are more likely to develop eczema if one or both parents have the condition. Environmental factors can bring out the symptoms of eczema including:
Irritants such as soaps, detergents, shampoos, chemical disinfectants, juices from fruits, meats, and vegetables.
Allergens: Dust mites, pets, pollens, and mold can lead to allergic eczema.
Microbes: These include bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, viruses, and certain fungi.
Extreme Temperatures: Very hot and very cold weather, high and low humidity, and excessive sweating can trigger eczema.
Foods: Dairy products, eggs, nuts and seeds, soy products, and wheat can cause itchy eczema flares.
Stress: While not a direct cause, stress can increase symptoms.
Hormones: Women may experience an increase in symptoms during pregnancy and at certain points in the menstrual cycle.
While most cases of eczema are mild, people with severe cases, especially children, need more intensive treatment to relieve their symptoms. Continuous rubbing and scratching can lead to open, crusted, or weeping sores and skin infections.
In most cases, however, eczema is mild. The most common symptoms of atopic dermatitis include:
What is the treatment for eczema?
While there is currently not a cure for eczema, treatment for the condition is aimed at healing the affected skin and preventing symptoms.
Depending on the patient’s age, symptoms, and current health condition, your board-certified dermatologist may prescribe medication such as topical or systemic corticosteroids, antibiotics, antihistamines, topical calcineurin inhibitors, and/or phototherapy in addition to a providing a home care program that will alleviate symptoms and support your overall skin health with a personalized treatment plan.
Home Care Tips for Eczema
- Moisturize your skin every day
- Take lukewarm baths
- Gently pat skin dry with towel after bathing
- Apply moisturizer to skin right after bathing to seal in moisture
- Wear soft cotton fabrics
- Avoid wearing tight clothing
- Using a humidifier in dry or cold weather
- Using a mild soaps and gentle body wash cleansers
- Keep fingernails short.filed to prevent breaking skin when scratching
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