I get more questions about eczema than any other skin condition. It’s tricky because doctors really don’t know for sure what causes it. And the causes of this skin condition can change from person to person, making it difficult to diagnose.
The word eczema comes from ancient Greek, meaning ‘break out.’ Many people use the term eczema to refer to different types of skin irritations. Today we are going to talk about Atopic Dermatitis, which is the most common form of eczema, and one that is often confused with an allergic reaction.
The physical appearance of eczema varies, based on the exact type of eczema one suffers from. However, there are some symptoms that seem to be consistent.
What we know about eczema
- Eczema is not contagious. You cannot catch it from anyone.
- It tends to run in the family. If someone in your family suffers from eczema, it may pass through the generations.
- There appears to be a link between eczema, seasonal allergies and asthma. Doctors have found a link between children suffering from severe eczema and the development of allergies and/or asthma later in life.
- The environment is a key contributor.
Children who live in an area that has high levels of pollution, or those who live in colder climates, are more susceptible to developing eczema.
A few do’s and don’ts
- Do keep your skin moisturized at all times to help alleviate dryness and itching.
- Do apply moisturizing body lotions immediately after bathing to help seal in the skin’s natural moisture.
- Don’t take long baths or showers, and avoid overly hot water.
- Do use soaps and cleansers that are mild and gentle to the skin.
- Do wear loose fitting cotton clothing and avoid itchy wool or other synthetic fibers.
- Do keep your fingernails short to resist the urge to scratch your skin.
- Don’t stress! Try getting some exercise or meditating to cut down on stress.
- Do wear protective gloves while washing dishes, or any other activity that requires prolonged exposure to water.
- Do use cool compresses to help control itching whenever possible.
- Do avoid extreme temperature changes and avoid getting hot and sweaty.
- Do keep your bedroom cool when you sleep. If your room is too hot, you could sweat and worsen the itching and irritation.
Well known skin irritants tend to be the most common triggers
- Dust and sand
- Harsh soaps and detergents
- Wool and other types of fabrics
- Cigarette smoke
- Molds, pollen and pollutants
Flare-ups can also be triggered by conditions that have a direct link to our immune system, such as:
- Cold and Flu
- Infection caused by bacteria
- Allergies associated with pollen, molds or even pet dander
- Stress has also been identified as a potential trigger
- Itchiness – almost always your skin will itch before a rash will appear
- Dry skin patches – commonly found on the hands, neck, face and legs. In children the creases of the elbows and knees can also be affected.
- Red and Inflamed skin
- Thickened, crusty skin due to scratching
- Blisters and oozing skin lesions
The latest research suggests that eczema is caused by a combination of different things.
Trying to pinpoint the unique cause of eczema can be like finding a needle in a haystack. People tend to have their own individual “trigger factors” that can affect their flare-ups. There are many different factors which include the environment in which we live, genetics/heredity, abnormal functioning of the immune system and even some lifestyle choices can lead skin to become more sensitive.
What can we do about it?
First, get a professional opinion. Visit your doctor or dermatologist to determine if it is eczema that you are suffering from. Once you know for sure, one of the most important things you can do is to determine “trigger factor(s).” A trigger is not something that can cause its appearance, rather, it’s something that may lead to a flare-up or worsen a current flare-up. An eczema flare-up trigger might be easy to identify and avoid, such as spicy foods or alcohol.
Eczema triggers are unique to each individual, so don’t give up if yours aren’t easy to identify. You may wish to keep a food journal to help pinpoint food-related triggers. By keeping a food journal, you will be able to identify the cause of your eczema flare-ups so you can avoid them whenever possible.