Eczema

Eczema is a skin condition caused by inflammation of the skin that can appear on any part of the body. Atopic dermatitis, also known as atopic eczema, is the most common form of the many forms of eczema and often runs in families.

Atopic eczema is a long-lasting condition that tends to flare periodically and then subside. Typically, eczema causes the skin to become itchy, red, and dry, even cracked and leathery. It may be accompanied by allergic conditions like asthma or hay fever.

The exact cause of atopic eczema is unknown, but the current thinking is that it is caused by a combination of factors including genetics, an overactive immune system, environment, and defects in the skin barrier that allow moisture out and germs in.

Atopic eczema is common in children, typically appearing between three and 12 months of age, but it can occur at any age. Most often it affects skin on the face, hands, feet, inner elbows, and the back of the knees. The face and scalp may be affected and in some chronic cases, the whole body can be affected by eczema.

Factors that may trigger eczema include stress, heat and sweat, cold, dry climates, dry skin and contact with irritating substances such as woolen and synthetic fabrics and soap.

No cure has been found for atopic dermatitis, but treatments and self-care measures can help to relieve itching and prevent new outbreaks.

If you are worried that you or your child may have eczema or allergies, please visit your local medical doctor for medical diagnosis and treatment.

Signs & Symptoms

Atopic dermatitis (eczema) signs and symptoms vary widely from person to person and include:

  • Itching, which may be intense, especially at night
  • Red to brownish-gray patches, especially on the hands, feet, ankles, wrists, neck, inside the bend of the elbows and knees, and, in infants, the face and scalp
  • Small, raised bumps, which may leak fluid and crust over when scratched
  • Thickened, cracked, dry, scaly skin
  • Raw, sensitive, swollen skin from scratching

Prevention and Treatment of Atopic Eczema

Atopic eczema can be persistent and you may need to try various treatments over months or years to control it.

Treatments include:

  • Products to lubricate and repair the skin
  • Steroid creams and ointments to control itching and inflammation
  • Drugs that control the immune system
  • Antibiotics to treat infections
  • Light therapy (not suitable for infants and young children)
  • Wet dressings — an intensive treatment for severe atopic dermatitis
  • Treatment for stress
  • Relaxation, behavior modification or biofeedback

Treatment for infantile eczema includes:

  • Identifying and avoiding skin irritations
  • Avoiding extreme temperatures
  • Lubricating your baby's skin with bath oils, lotions, creams or ointments

Self Care Measures:

  • Take an oral allergy or anti-itch medication to help reduce itching
  • Apply an anti-itch cream or calamine lotion to the affected area
  • Moisturise your skin at least twice a day paying special attention to your legs, arms, back and sides of your body
  • Avoid scratching
  • Apply cool, wet compresses
  • Sprinkle warm bath water with baking soda or uncooked or colloidal oatmeal and soak for 10 to 15 minutes, then pat dry
  • Use an unscented, hydrating moisturiser all over while your skin is still damp after a bath or shower
  • Choose mild soaps without dyes or perfumes
  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air inside your home
  • Wear cool, smooth-textured clothing such as cotton and silk
  • Treat stress and anxiety which can worsen atopic eczema