What is Eczema?
Eczema is an inflammation of the skin that causes reddening, scaling and sometimes intense itching. Eczema is often associated with other allergic conditions such as hay fever, asthma and food allergies. Eczema often runs in families and shows in an infant as small bumps on the cheeks, forehead and scalp, progressing to the face, trunk and limbs. Frequently, the only area spared is the diaper region. Older children and adults may have patches of eczema behind the knees or the elbows. Children with eczema have a greater risk of developing asthma and/or allergies, as they get older.
Current statistics show that between 2% and 4% of children under the age of seven have been diagnosed with eczema. Half of these cases will resolve without intervention before the age of five. Many of the remaining cases will resolve before the teen years. However, some cases will still be present in adulthood.
The connection between allergies and eczema is not completely understood. When you experience an allergic response, your body is treating a normally harmless substance as an enemy. Your body then releases histamines to fight this enemy. Histamines are what cause itching, swelling and inflammation.
Some people note that certain foods, medicines, and environmental factors (dust, molds, pollens and pets) trigger allergic reactions. The best cure for allergies and eczema is prevention. Find out what causes an allergic response in you, and remove these allergens from your life, if possible. Skin tests can help determine what allergens may cause your problems.
Stress can also play a role in eczema. While stress is not a direct cause of eczema, very stressful events are often associated with eczema flare-ups.
One of the most important underlying factors of eczema is the lack of moisture in the skin. If you can keep the skin moist, the itching will lessen. The use of moisturizing lotions, creams and ointments not only moisturizes the skin, but also acts a barrier that protects the skin from some irritants. Your doctor may prescribe an ointment, or recommend and over-the-counter product.
Bathing may or may not relieve the itching. Some find soaking in the tub to be soothing, while others find it to increase dryness. Some helpful hints are to cover any cracks in the skin with a moisturizing ointment before getting into the water, use mild hypoallergenic soaps and avoid perfumed soaps.
Individuals with eczema find that they have very sensitive skin. It is best to avoid contact with any irritating surfaces in order to keep from making the eczema worse. It is best to stay away from scratchy fabrics, like wool, and wear cotton clothing. Avoiding extreme temperatures can also be helpful. The heat and humidity of the summer months can cause many problems, as the bitter cold of winter.
It may be difficult to keep from scratching, but there are ways to lessen the damage. Keep nails trimmed, wear long sleeves and pants, to keep scratching opportunities to a minimum. Scratching makes you feel better at the time, but can lead to bleeding and sometimes infection.
Medications can help you deal with the itch of eczema, reduce the inflammation, cure infection, and reduce the effects of the allergens, which may be contributing to your eczema. The most often prescribed ointments and creams are the corticosteroids. These medications work by reducing the inflammation of eczema. They may also make it less itchy. Depending on the strength needed, you may need a prescription from your physician. You should always consult your doctor before using any product that contains a steroid. Antihistamines may also reduce the effects of allergens or irritants that may contribute to the flare-up of eczema. These medications can help relieve the itch, and when taken at night, may help you sleep better.
While there is no cure for eczema, there are many things that you and your physician can do to ease the symptoms.
This has been a Public Service Announcement provided by:
The Allergy and Asthma Center
7230 Engle Road, Suite 300
Fort Wayne, Indiana 46804
(260) 432.5005 or 1.800.496.3889
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