What is eczema?
Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a recurring, non-infectious, inflammatory skin condition.
One in three Australians will experience eczema at some stage in their lives. People with a family history of an atopic disorder, including asthma or hay fever, are most likely to suffer from it.
Symptoms include red, itchy and flaky skin and, in more severe cases, it may ooze, bleed and crust over.
The dry skin can cause the sufferer a lot of discomfort and sometimes it may even cause an infection. Eczema can also flare up and subside for no apparent reason.
Although eczema affects all ages, it usually appears in early childhood.
- Baby eczema generally flares up between two – six months of age.
- The symptoms usually disappear around six years of age.
- Over 50% of all eczema sufferers show signs within their first 12 months of life.
- 90 per cent of children develop eczema before the age of five.
Although most children grow out of the condition, a small percentage may experience some degree of atopic dermatitis in adulthood.
What are the symptoms of eczema?
- Moderately-to-severely itchy skin – this symptom separates eczema from other skin rashes.
- Dry skin.
- Red, patchy, scaly or cracked skin – in infants and toddlers, the rash usually appears on the face, elbows or knees. In older children and adults, the rash more commonly appears on the hands, neck, inner elbows, and other skin bends and folds.
- Weeping skin – looks like oozing watery fluid.
- Rough, “leathery,” thick skin.
- Lesions which may be infected by bacteria or viruses.
What causes eczema?
Although the exact cause of eczema is unknown, it appears to be linked to several internal and external factors:
- A family history of health conditions such as eczema, asthma or hay fever – the strongest predictors. If both parents have eczema, there is an 80 per cent chance that their children will too.
- Allergic reactions to certain foods – this is rare. However, particular foods and alcohol, such as dairy, wheat, citrus fruits, eggs, nuts, seafood, chemical food additives, preservatives and colourings can trigger eczema to appear.
- Irritants – tobacco smoke, chemicals, hot and humid weather, cold and dry conditions, air conditioning, overheating and wearing scratchy materials.
- Allergens – house dust mites, moulds, grass, plant pollen, certain foods, pets and clothing, shampoos and other bath products, cosmetics and toiletries.
How long does eczema last?
Eczema symptoms tend to become less severe over time.
For many sufferers, symptoms may mostly disappear, although they will tend to suffer from dry, sensitive skin.
How do you control eczema?
Although eczema is not a life-threatening disease, it can really affect the quality of life of the sufferer and their family.
Here are some ways to manage eczema and reduce the frequency of flare-ups:
- Avoid scratching – this can make the rash worse and lead to thickened, brownish areas on the skin.
- Take luke-warm baths and avoid really hot showers. Pat dry instead of rubbing your skin.
- Using natural and sensitive soaps or wipes.
- Wearing clothing that is soft and smooth, such as 100% cotton. Scratchy materials such as wool and polyester should be avoided.
- Wearing protective gloves when coming in contact with any type of chemical or detergent.
- A natural organic diet.