Also known as atopic dermatitis, eczema is a skin condition that makes your skin itchy, inflamed, and red. Though it is common in children, it might be seen in adults too. It is a chronic disorder and might flare from time to time. In some instances, atopic dermatitis might also be accompanied by hay fever or asthma. Over 30 million citizens suffer from this condition today.
To date, there’s no particular cure for the disease, but certain self-care measures and treatments can prevent any new outbreaks, and give you relief from persistent itching.
Symptoms of eczema
The signs and symptoms of eczema might vary from one person to another. However, there are a few common symptoms that are noted in most people suffering from this condition. These include:
- Itching that varies in severity, but is usually confined to the night
- Brownish-gray or red patches on the wrists, feet, hands, neck, ankles, eyelids, face, upper chest, scalp, inside the knees, and in the bend of elbows
- Dry skin
- Cracked, thickened, or scaly skin
- Swollen, sensitive, or raw skin, especially from continuous scratching
- A few raised bumps that may leak crust and fluid, if peeled
Usen the child is only five years old (or below) and might persist till adolescence and even adulthood. However, in some people, the disease only flares periodically and then doesn’t return for years.
When to consult a doctor?
You must visit a doctor if either you or your child:
- suffer from a skin infection: you must self-examine for yellow scabs, red streaks, or pus on the body
- Are/is extremely uncomfortable, affecting your routine activities or sleep cycle
- Are/is experiencing symptoms even after the application of several home remedies
Furthermore, if the rash looks infected, or if you get a fever because of it, you should head to a doctor immediately.
Causes of eczema
When your skin is healthy, it would automatically protect you from allergens, bacteria, and irritants by retaining the moisture that it needs. Eczema is primarily caused by a gene variation that might hamper the skin’s natural ability to protect itself. As a result of this, the skin might be affected by irritants, allergens, stress, or even certain environmental factors. In children, food allergies, too, might be a cause of eczema.
Risk factors of eczema
If you have a family history of hay fever, asthma, allergies, or eczema, your chances of developing this condition are significantly more. Boys are more likely to develop this condition than girls.
Complications of eczema
There are certain complications associated with eczema. These include:
- Hay fever and asthma
In approximately 50% of children, eczema leads to hay fever or asthma by the age of 13.
- Scaly or itchy skin
Sometimes, people with eczema might experience a skin condition called neurodermatitis. It usually begins with a small patch of itchiness. So, when you scratch that area, it gets itchier. After a while, scratching that area becomes a habit. As a result of continuous scratching, the area might get leathery, thick, or might change its color.
- Sleep issues
Because of continuous itching, you might be unable to sleep.
- Skin infections
Because of repeated scratching, your skin might break out. It can lead to cracks or open sores. This might expose your skin to infections caused by a virus or bacteria.
- Contact dermatitis
This is a common complication of eczema and might lead to allergies when you come in contact with a particular substance.
- Hand dermatitis
This complication is noted mostly in people who do some sort of work in which their hands often become wet. It might also occur when you expose the hands to disinfectants, soaps, and detergents.
Diagnosis of eczema
You don’t need a lab test to identify the presence of eczema. When you visit a doctor, he will conduct a skin diagnosis and then review your past medical history. It might be followed by patch testing or other skin tests to rule out various other skin infections.
There will be supportive tests to identify the conditions that coexist with your eczema. If there’s a particular food item that’s causing the rash, you need to inform the doctor about it immediately; this will help identify any potential allergies caused by food.
Treatment options for eczema
Usually, eczema is persistent. Thus, it is essential to keep trying different treatment options overtime to keep things under control. There will be times when a particular treatment option works for you. However, despite that, the symptoms might return anytime. Thus, it is important to be alert and recognize the signs early on. It will help you with the treatment. If regular self-care tips or moisturizing isn’t helping you, you should start medication and targeted therapy.
Following treatment options might be recommended by your doctor:
- Creams to repair the skin or help control itching
The doctor will usually prescribe an ointment or a corticosteroid cream. You can apply the same as instructed, but don’t forget to moisturize your skin before applying the cream thoroughly. Make sure you do not overuse the medicine as it may have certain side effects, such as skin thinning. There are certain other ointments, too, such as pimecrolimus and tacrolimus. However, these hamper your immune system and must be used by people above the age of two years only. Make sure you do not expose your skin to direct sunlight immediately after the application of the products. All of these medicines come with a stated warning of a risk of cancer.
- Medicines to get rid of infections
If your skin has a certain bacterial infection, the doctor might prescribe you an antibiotic cream for cracks or open sores. Sometimes an oral antibiotic might also be recommended to heal the infection.
- Medicine for inflammation
In severe cases, the doctor will prescribe corticosteroids like prednisone. Of course, these medicines have an immediate effect, but you cannot use them for long because of their potential risks.
- Newer medications for severe cases
Dupilumab, an injectable biologic medicine, is a Food and Drug Administration-approved drug that treats people with the most severe symptoms. It is primarily used when the patient is not responding to other available treatment alternatives. Since the medication is relatively new, there’s no definite record of its impact on the people. Though it is a bit expensive, it is safe to use.
This is a preferred treatment option for people who either flare up rapidly post-treatment or do not seem to respond to topical treatments. In this method, the skin is exposed to a controlled degree of sunlight. Sometimes, artificial ultraviolet A or ultraviolet B might be used either in combination with medications or individually. While it is an effective and helpful treatment measure, it might have a negative impact in the long-run. In some cases, it might put you at a risk of cancer. Moreover, premature skin aging is a normal side-effect of light therapy. It is because of these reasons that this method is only rarely used on young children and never used on infants. Before opting for light therapy, you should consult your doctor about the pros and cons.
Biofeedback or relaxation
If a patient has a habit of continually scratching the affected area, such approaches might be used.
For infants, the treatment option would include:
- Moisturizing the skin with creams, bath oils, and ointments
- Avoiding all possible skin irritants
- Not exposing to extreme temperature
You should immediately visit a doctor if the treatment measures do not reduce the impact of the rash or if the rash appears to be infected. In most cases, a baby might not need any medication to control the infection or inflammation. The doctor might recommend an oral antihistamine to reduce itchiness.
Certain tips might either prevent the sudden flare of eczema or help your body regain the moisture after bathing. If you follow the tips given below, you will be able to avoid any eczema breakouts; however, this is not guaranteed:
- Take only shorter baths or showers
Firstly, when you take a bath, opt for lukewarm water over hot water. Further, you shouldn’t be under the water for over 15 minutes.
- Use a quality moisturizer
Lotions, creams, and ointments help your skin retain moisture. Always opt for a moisturizer or a skin lubricant that does an excellent job at keeping your skin moisturized for at least 10 to 12 hours a day. Further, you should also apply moisturizer before sleeping. For a baby, opt for petroleum jelly as it can prevent the trigger of eczema.
- Use gentle soaps
Antibacterial soaps or detergents might have a drying effect on the skin. They might absorb the natural oils from your skin. Thus, always go with milder soaps.
- Be careful while drying your skin
When you are done with your shower, use a gentle towel to pat dry your skin. Also, when your skin is slightly wet, apply a moisturizer.
- Opt for bleach baths
Bleach baths are known to have a positive impact on preventing eczema flares. People who take a diluted bleach bath are less prone to skin infections.
- Try identifying triggers to avoid them
Certain things can trigger a skin infection and even worsen it. These include detergents, stress, soaps, dust, obesity, sweat, and pollen. Try to reduce your exposure to these triggers as much as possible. In children or infants, the flares might occur on eating certain food items, such as wheat, eggs, soy, or milk. Be mindful of these allergies, and keep your child away from them.
Food to consume to avoid eczema
In some people, eating a few food items can lead to the release of certain immune system compounds. These compounds might put you to a risk of inflammation, which becomes a cause of eczema. So, if you opt for an anti-inflammation diet, your eczema would be in check. Make sure you include the following food items in your diet.
- Food items that are rich in probiotics
- Miso soup
Regular consumption of these food items can reduce the flare-up of eczema.
Foods to avoid to prevent eczema flare-up
In most people, eczema flares up as a result of food sensitivity occurring anytime between 6 to 24 hours after consuming a particular food item. In a few cases, the reaction might occur after a day. To examine whether a specific food item is causing a skin reaction, your doctor would generally recommend an elimination diet.
As part of this diet, you’ll have to get rid of everything that might trigger eczema. Elimination will require you first to add the food type in your diet and closely examine the impact it has for a minimum of 4 to 6 weeks. At this time, it would be clear whether you are sensitive to the stated food item. If consumption of a particular food item aggravates your symptoms, you should get rid of it immediately. On the other hand, if there’s no flare-up after consuming a particular item, you can continue to have it in your diet.
A few food items that do trigger an eczema flare-up include:
- Citrus fruits
In a few cases, the doctor would recommend allergy testing. Under this, you might not be allergic to a certain food item but might show sensitivity to it. The sensitivity might lead to skin symptoms as a result of repeated exposure. This is a food responsive trigger. You can cut out on these items, too, because your sensitivity to these food items might later aggravate and trigger an eczema flare-up.
Armed with this knowledge on this condition, we hope that you can tackle this condition better and manage your eczema successfully.