Eczema is a skin condition that is suffered by 10 to 20% of the world's population. The red, itchy, and flaky skin that appears on people with this condition is a result of the skin's inflammatory response to physical or environmental irritants. Anybody can get eczema, although those with a family history will have a greater predisposition of developing the disease. There is currently no cure for this condition, although there are treatments that may help to alleviate the itchy symptoms.
Normally, skin acts as a barrier to protect individuals against disease and infection. This protection is compromised when oversensitivity to external irritants, known as triggers, cause a negative immune response, resulting in an eczema reaction. Eczema is caused by triggers to environmental and physical irritants. Patches of skin get flaky, itchy, and red. Sometimes, these patches ooze liquid. When the skin heals, it thickens and can radiate a leathery appearance at spots where the reaction occurs. This process is known as lichenification. Allergic reactions to fruit, meat, animal dander, dust, soaps, and viruses can trigger an episode of eczema. Environmental triggers, such as stress, can cause also preclude a reaction.
This skin condition can appear in infants, children, and adults, on any part of the body. Infants manifest this condition on their foreheads, cheeks, forearms, legs, scalp, and neck. In children and adults, the itchy red patches can appear on the face, neck, inside of the elbows, knees, and the ankles. Eczema can appear in infancy and end between the ages of 5 to 15, but it can also be a life-long condition, recurring on and off at intervals for the rest of a person's life.
Eczema comes in several forms, depending on the nature and form of the irritant. Atopic dermatitis, the most common type, occurs when and individual has a hypersensitive reaction to an allergen resulting in a chronic, itchy skin condition. A person suffering from atopic dermatitis is more likely to develop food allergies, hay fever, and asthma. Occupational eczema occurs when an individual has an allergic reaction to job-related environmental substances that triggers a reaction. Another form is nummular eczema. This type is characterized by coin-shaped splotches on the skin. Nummular eczema is made worse when individuals wear tight clothing that irritates the skin, and may be exacerbated by certain soaps and detergents used in laundry.
There are no known cures for eczema, but the disease can be treated. Modifying lifestyles to minimize any exposure to possible triggers is the most effective treatment. First and foremost, continually moisturizing skin can help prevent an eczema reaction. Use lotions and creams immediately after a bath. This helps moisturize skin by trapping natural oils within the skin's surface, serving as a self-hydrating agent.
Furthermore, sufferers of eczema should avoid excessive sweating and overheating. Avoiding environmental triggers, such as changes in the humidity or temperature, can help reduce the excessive sweating that leads to disease manifestation. If the patch of skin is itching badly, a cold compress can help reduce the inflammation and lessen the itchiness.
Short fingernails prevent the urge to scratch and break skin, endangering the body to other infections. Loose-fitting clothes should be worn to prevent irritation, which may lead to itching. New clothes should be washed in mild soap before wearing. Since stress also serves as a trigger, an individual who suffers from eczema would be well advised to reduce stress. Persons with severe flare-ups should seek the help of a dermatologist.
If the lifestyle modifications do not provide any relief, medical relief may be necessary. Corticosteroids can reduce inflammation. Antibiotics can be used if the skin becomes infected as a result scratching. Antihistamines can be used to lessen the itch in the evening so a person can sleep. Cyclosporine A can be used in extreme cases, but the side effects associated with it make it a last resort.