Eczema affects millions of children, teens, and adults, with many reporting moderate to severe symptoms every day. Many people use the word eczema when referring to atopic dermatitis, which is the most common type of Eczema. Atopic dermatitis is most common in children, but the majority will outgrow it by the time they reach adolescence. 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.
Eczema can affect your outward appearance, and discomfort levels which can create unexpected social, emotional, and financial challenges for many. October is National Eczema Awareness month and in this article, we will discuss what eczema is and its symptoms, treatments, causes, and types when it comes to having or knowing someone who may have Eczema. You’ll also find out when it can be helpful to see a provider.
What is Eczema?
“Eczema is a common chronic inflammatory skin disease, which results in widespread rashes and patches of itchy skin,” states Dr. Lisa Carroll of Dermatology Partners. “Some people outgrow atopic dermatitis, while others will continue to have it throughout adulthood. Eczema can cause discomfort and can vary in severity. The skin condition can be often mistaken as really dry skin and it can present differently depending on a person’s age. In people with darker skin tones, the symptoms may be harder to see. Although there is currently no cure, people can treat and prevent eczema flares using home remedies, moisturizers, medication, and lifestyle changes.”
The many types of Eczema?
There are several types of Eczema besides atopic dermatitis, other types include:
- Allergic contact dermatitis: This is a skin reaction that occurs following contact with a substance or allergen that the immune system recognizes as foreign.
- Dyshidrotic eczema: This refers to irritation of the skin on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet. It is characterized by blisters.
- Neurodermatitis: This leads to scaly patches of skin on the head, forearms, wrists, and lower legs. It occurs due to a localized itch, such as from an insect bite.
- Discoid eczema: Also known as nummular eczema, this type presents as circular patches of irritated skin that can be crusted, scaly, and itchy.
- Stasis dermatitis: This refers to skin irritation of the lower leg. It is usually related to circulatory problems.
What causes Eczema?
Although the exact cause is unknown, eczema is not contagious and cannot be spread to others. There is no definitive cause of eczema, but many believe that it develops from a combination of genetics 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.
Common environmental factors and triggers that may also bring out the symptoms of eczema include:
- Irritants: These include soaps, detergents, shampoos, disinfectants, juices from fresh fruits, meats, and vegetables.
- Allergens: Dust mites, pets, pollens, and mold can all lead to eczema. This is known as allergic eczema.
- Microbes: These include bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, viruses, and certain fungi.
- Hot & 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, seeds, soy products, and wheat can cause eczema flare-ups.
- 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.
These triggers can present a dry, highly sensitive, itchy, inflamed skin.
How to treat Eczema?
Eczema cannot be cured, but it can be effectively and comfortably managed by your dermatologist. Treatments options can include:
- Over the Counter (otc) topicals: Almost every brand of moisturizer has a specific formulation for eczema-prone skin. These can help manage the redness and itching.
- Prescription topicals: Only available through your doctor, topical corticosteroid creams and ointments, are commonly given to alleviate the rash and severe dryness.
- Oral medications: If topical treatments are not effective, a doctor may prescribe oral medications like systemic corticosteroids or immunosuppressants. These are available as injections or oral tablets, and should only be used for a short period of time. Note: Symptoms may worsen upon stopping these drugs if the person is not already taking another medication for the condition.
- Antibiotics: Doctors may prescribe antibiotics if eczema occurs alongside a bacterial skin infection.
- Antihistamines: These can reduce the risk of nighttime scratching, as they tend to cause drowsiness.
- Topical calcineurin inhibitors: This drug suppresses the activities of the immune system. It decreases inflammation and helps prevent flare-ups.
- UVB Therapy: Also referred to as phototherapy, this involves the patient exposing the affected areas of the body to specific narrowband ultraviolet light. The desired outcome is an increase in the production of vitamin D and a reduction in skin inflammation. This method treats moderate dermatitis. A doctor will monitor the skin closely throughout the treatment.
- Biologics: These medications target the specific triggers of eczema symptoms from the inside out, and are given as a subcutaneous injection in a medical office. These medications block proteins in the immune system to limit immune system response.
Even though Eczema is not curable, and the area of skin has healed, it is important to keep looking after it, as it may easily become irritated again. Each person should consult with a provider to get a rolled out treatment plan depending on the severity of their condition.
How is Eczema diagnosed?
Your provider will evaluate your condition and take into account your personal and family health history. Your provider will then make an official diagnosis and recommendation on a treatment plan specifically for you.