Eczema is the name for a group of conditions that cause the skin to become itchy, inflamed, or have a rash-like appearance. Eczema is a condition that makes your skin red and itchy. It’s common in children but can occur at any age. Eczema is very common. In fact, over 31 million Americans have some form of eczema. Eczema can begin during childhood, adolescence, or adulthood and it can range from mild to severe. Eczema is not contagious. You can’t “catch it” from someone else. While the exact cause of eczema is unknown, researchers do know that people who develop eczema do so because of a combination of genes and environmental triggers.
When an irritant or an allergen from outside or inside the body “switches on” the immune system, it produces inflammation. It is this inflammation that causes the symptoms common to most types of eczema. It’s sometimes called “the itch that rashes,” because the itching usually comes first. This group of skin rashes is very common in babies and toddlers. Adults can have it too, often as scaly, leathery patches or on their hands. Atopic dermatitis is a common, often inherited form of eczema, but there are other types and many treatments. No cure has been found for atopic dermatitis. But treatments and self-care measures can relieve itching and prevent new outbreaks. For example, it helps to avoid harsh soaps, moisturize your skin regularly, and apply medicated creams or ointments.
SYMPTOMS OF ECZEMA
The most important thing to remember is that eczema and its symptoms are different for everyone. Different types of eczema may even appear in different areas of the body at different times. Eczema is usually itchy. For many people, the itch can range from mild to moderate. But in some cases, it can become much worse and you might develop extremely inflamed skin. Sometimes the itch gets so bad that people scratch it until it bleeds, which can make your eczema worse. This is called the “itch-scratch cycle.” Eczema usually happens among babies and children. But there are also cases which eczema attacking adults.
ECZEMA IN BABIES
Infants who are 6-12 weeks old can get atopic dermatitis as a patchy facial rash. Moisture from drooling makes it worse. In some cases, the condition goes away by age 2. But about half of people who had atopic dermatitis as a child will have it as an adult. Eczema is a condition wherein patches of skin become inflamed, itchy, cracked, and rough. Some types can also cause blisters. Different types and stages of eczema affect 31.6 million people in the United States, which is over 10% of the population. Many people use the word eczema when referring to atopic dermatitis, which is the most common type. The term atopic refers to a collection of conditions that involve the immune system, including atopic dermatitis, asthma, and hay fever. The word dermatitis refers to inflammation of the skin. Certain foods, such as nuts and dairy, can trigger symptoms. Environmental triggers include smoke, pollen, soaps, and fragrances. Eczema is not contagious. Some people outgrow the condition, whereas others will continue to have it throughout adulthood.
SYMPTOMS IN INFANTS
The following atopic dermatitis symptoms are common in infants under the age of 2:
- rashes on the scalp and cheeks
- rashes that bubble up before leaking fluid
- rashes that can cause extreme itchiness, which may interfere with sleeping
SYMPTOMS IN CHILDREN
The following atopic dermatitis symptoms are common in children age 2 and above:
- rashes that appear behind the creases of elbows or knees
- rashes that appear on the neck, wrists, ankles, and the crease between the buttocks and legs
- bumpy rashes
- rashes that can become lighter or darker
- skin thickening, also known as lichenification, which can then develop into a permanent itch
SYMPTOMS IN ADULTS
The following atopic dermatitis symptoms are common in adults:
- rashes that are more scaly than those occurring in children
- rashes that commonly appear in the creases of the elbows or knees or the nape of the neck
- rashes that cover much of the body
- very dry skin on the affected areas
- rashes that are permanently itchy
- skin infections
Adults who developed atopic dermatitis as a child but no longer experience the condition may still have dry or easily irritated skin, hand eczema, and eye problems. The appearance of skin affected by atopic dermatitis will depend on how much a person scratches and whether or not the skin is infected. Scratching and rubbing can further irritate the skin, increase inflammation, and make the itching worse.
CAUSES OF ECZEMA
The specific cause of eczema remains unknown, but many health professionals believe that it develops due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Children are more likely to develop eczema if a parent has it or another atopic condition. If both parents have an atopic condition, the risk is even higher. Some environmental factors can bring out the symptoms of eczema. These factors include:
- Irritants: These include soaps, detergents, shampoos, disinfectants, juices from fresh fruits, meats, and vegetables.
- Allergens: Dust mites, pets, pollens, and mould can all lead to eczema. This is known as allergic eczema.
- Microbes: These include bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, viruses, and certain fungi.
- Hot and cold temperatures: Very hot and very cold weather, high and low humidity, and perspiration from exercise can bring out eczema.
- Foods: Dairy products, eggs, nuts and seeds, soy products, and wheat can cause eczema flares.
- Stress: This is not a direct cause of eczema, but it can make the symptoms worse.
- Hormones: Females may experience increased eczema symptoms when their hormone levels are changing, such as during pregnancy and at certain points in the menstrual cycle.