It is possible to have an even skin tone, with no blemish or spot at all. But this not the case as most people have their skin tarnished by various skin reactions, and one of the most common is eczema.
Eczema is an inflammation of the skin characterized by reddening, swelling, bumps and crusting, followed by thickening and scaling. It is also referred to as dermatitis. It refers to a chronic inflammatory skin condition, characterized by dry skin, with patches that are red and intensely itchy. These patches of eczema may ooze, become scaly, crusted, or hardened. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and the condition can negatively impact quality of life. Eczema can occur anywhere on the skin and is commonly found on the flexors (bends of the arms, backs of the knees). There are many types of eczema, with the most common one being atopic dermatitis. Atopy refers to a hereditary tendency toward eczema, asthma, and allergic rhinitis (hay fever). People with eczema may suffer with one of the other atopic diseases.
Eczema affects millions of people, and most of them are infants and children. Ten percent to 20 percent of all infants have eczema, according to the National Institutes of Health. However, nearly half outgrow the condition. It usually appears in children between 6 months and 5 years old, according to the National Eczema Association. Rashes usually begin on the face, scalp, hands and feet. The problem can last throughout childhood and into adulthood.
Symptoms and Causes
The exact cause of eczema is unknown, however, there are genetic, immunological and environmental factors that play a role. Eczema can come and go, and can migrate around the body; just as one patch clears up, another may develop. This is the chronic nature of the disease. When the skin cycles back to inflammation, the patient is experiencing a flare-up. Doctors do not know the exact cause of eczema. The current thinking is that it is triggered by a combination of factors, including genetics. People are more at risk of developing eczema if they have relatives with eczema, asthma, or seasonal allergies. Environmental factors: are also known to bring out the symptoms of eczema. These include:
Irritants: soaps, detergents, shampoos, disinfectants, juices from fresh fruits, meats or vegetables
Allergens: dust mites, pets, pollens, mold, dandruff
Microbes: bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, viruses, certain fungi
Hot and cold temperatures: hot weather, high and low humidity, perspiration from exercise
Foods: dairy products, eggs, nuts and seeds, soy products, wheat
Stress: it is not a cause of eczema but can make symptoms worse
Hormones: women can experience worsening of eczema symptoms at times when their hormone levels are changing, for example during pregnancy and at certain points in their menstrual cycle.
Environmental factors, such as low humidity, can make the skin dry and itchy. Contact with harsh soaps, chemicals, perfumes and skin care products that contain fragrance or alcohol may irritate the skin, as will some fabrics, such as wool, and tight clothing.
Dry, sensitive skin
Red, inflamed skin
Oozing and crusting
Rough, leathery patches
Dark-colored patches of skin
Symptoms can flare or worsen when exposed to specific triggers, such as:
Allergens, including pollen, pet hair, dander, mold and foods such as eggs, wheat, nuts and dairy products. Skin irritants, including perfumes, harsh soaps, chemicals, alcohol-containing skin products, wool or tight clothing, Water, especially hot baths, Colds or flu, Climate conditions such as heat and low or high humidity, Stress .
Types of eczema
There are many different types of eczema.The most common type is the Atopic dermatitis. :
• Allergic contact eczema (dermatitis) – a reaction where the skin has come into contact with a substance that the immune system recognizes as foreign
• Contact eczema – a localized reaction where the skin has come into contact with an allergen
• Dyshidriotic eczema – irritation of skin on palms of hands and soles of feet, characterized by blisters
• Neurodermatitis – scaly patches of skin on head, forearms, wrists, lower legs caused by localized itch such as an insect bite
• Nummular eczema – circular patches of irritated skin that can be crusted, scaling and itchy
• Seborrheic eczema – oily, scaly yellowish patches of skin, usually on scalp and face
• Stasis dermatitis – skin irritation on lower legs, usually related to circulatory problems.
Tests and diagnosis
There is no single test that is used in order to diagnose eczema.
Skin allergy testing is often carried out when investigating potential eczema cases.
The doctor may need to see a patient multiple times in order to make an accurate diagnosis. This is because people with eczema experience very individual combinations of symptoms, which tend to fluctuate in severity over time. Diagnosis is based primarily on the patient’s symptoms, but medical history is also important. A doctor will often ask about a patient’s family history, other atopic diseases such as asthma and hay fever, possible exposure to irritants, whether any foods are related to flare-ups, sleep disturbances, past treatment for skin symptoms and the use of steroids or other medications.
A doctor may refer a patient onto either an allergist or dermatologist for further evaluation.
They may also attempt to rule out other conditions that can cause skin irritations. This can involve the following tests:
Patch testing: substances are placed onto the surface of the skin to test for skin allergies
Skin prick testing: a needle containing a small amount of a suspected allergen pricks the skin to test for allergies that do not necessarily occur on the skin, such as pollen or food
Supervised food challenges: foods are eliminated and then introduced into the diet to determine whether a food allergy is present.
Avoiding triggers and minimizing scratching go a long way toward coping with eczema. Effective home care can include: Applying cold compresses to reduce severe itching
Cutting children’s fingernails short to curtail scratching
Taking shorter baths or showers
Wearing gloves for jobs that require putting hands in water
Drinking eight glasses of water a day to keep skin moist
Taking regular warm baths
Applying moisturizer within 3 min of bathing to “lock in” moisture
Moisturizing every day
Wearing cotton and soft fabrics, avoiding rough, scratchy fibers and tight-fitting clothing
Using mild soap or a non-soap cleanser when washing
Air drying or gently patting skin dry with a towel, rather than rubbing skin dry after bathing
Avoiding rapid changes of temperature and activities that make you sweat (where possible)
Learning individual eczema triggers and avoiding them
Using a humidifier in dry or cold weather
Keeping fingernails short to prevent scratching from breaking skin.
This mostly involves treating the symptoms , to alleviate the discomfort. These include the use of corticosteroid creams, medications to control viral, bacterial and fungal infections, phototherapy, repair moisturizers, antihistamine. Even though the condition itself is not presently curable, there should be a particular treatment plan to suit each case. Even after an area of skin has healed it is important to keep looking after it, as it may easily become irritated again.