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Roughly 15% to 20% of children in the UK develop eczema at some point during their childhoods but it is also an adult condition, with about 1/3 of eczema cases being in people over the age of 18 and about 7% of adults suffering from it. While it is the most common inflammatory skin condition for children, the causes are still not understood and is only treatable in a majority, not all cases. Where treatment does work, it does not treat the underlying causes and has variable amounts of success.
Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is characterized by uncontrollable itching, raised skin, rashes, damaged skin, soreness, and disrupted sleep. However, these are just some of eczemas symptoms. The condition usually develops around folds of skin like the backs of knees, around the ankles, armpits and elbows, as well as at the neck. It can, however, appear anywhere on the body and in severe cases, can cover substantial amounts of skin, limiting movement and being an avenue for infection. Eczema is commonly found alongside asthma and hay fever, as well as food allergies.
The Effects of Eczema
The effects of an eczema flare can range from a mild skin irritation and discomfort to hospitalization with weeping sores and infections. Severe cases are rare but they can have a dramatic and profound effect on a person’s social, economic and personal life. When an outbreak of eczema occurs, the limb or patch of skin can itch with no relief, sometimes to the point where the patient scratches it until the affected skin bleeds. The itching can disrupt or prevent sleep, and as stress and sleeplessness is related to outbreaks of eczema, can cause a vicious circle of outbreaks.
Children who develop eczema can often be excluded from sports as they can’t move their limbs without irritation or pain. There is also social stigma attached to eczema, especially when it is visible outside clothing, such as on the face or forearms. Bullying and teasing is frequent and widespread, causing untold suffering.
An eczema sufferer can expect frequent visits to the doctor, potential social embarrassment, the use of thick creams or ointments every day, being excluded from activities or jobs, discomfort and a whole host of other potentially debilitating effects. The economic costs are estimated to be in excess of $5 billion for the United States alone.
The Causes of Eczema
The causes of atopic eczema are unclear, though we know that certain factors are involved. It seems to be a combination of genetic predisposition, a misplaced immune response, environmental factors and differences in the sensitivity and permeability of the skin. It isn’t caused by a pathogen, so it’s not contagious, though it does run in families.
While eczema causes are unclear, the role of the immune system is being explored. There is a link between asthma (an autoimmune condition), allergic reactions to things such as pet dander (also autoimmune) and eczema. There are a wide variety of eczema triggers, so patients often suffer from a combination of a few.
Someone who develops severe eczema has a high likelihood of developing asthma. The immune system is extremely complex and barely understood but understanding the links between these health conditions can help point scientists doing research in the right direction.
First, check it is eczema and not an infection or psoriasis. Both will require different treatment to eczema. A doctor or dermatologist will give you a diagnosis based on the symptoms, your family history, and your general health. They can decide if you have eczema or not, and identify which type of eczema it may be.
Unfortunately, there are no cures for eczema, only treatments that relieve symptoms and reduce the likelihood of an outbreak.
Mild, dermatologically tested soaps or soap substitutes are available and will not irritate the skin when you wash with it. Once you have carefully dried the area affected, gently rub in some moisturizer. When using paraffin-based moisturizer, be sure to wash clothes and bedsheets at a high enough temperature to melt the wax that accumulates as it can be a fire hazard. The bottle will have instructions.
Dry air can dry out your skin and make eczema worse. A humidifier in your bedroom could help relieve symptoms.
Stress is one of the causes of eczema and it is hard to escape from. However, meditation and a good work-life balance can help reduce stress-related eczema. Many sufferers of eczema report that sea water and air is the greatest relief from the condition. Swimming regularly in sea water apparently does wonders but this isn’t well studied.
Creams containing hydrocortisone are helpful with mild eczema and are available over the counter, but a prescription dose might be required for more severe eczema.
Topical steroids such as corticosteroids can be prescribed but can have severe side effects so are generally a last resort.
Antihistamines reduce the inflammation caused by an immune response and can help some cases of eczema, though they should not be taken for long periods and can make some users drowsy. Sunlamps and UV therapy can also help severe cases.
The effects of CBD oil on eczema have been studied and, though more research is needed, the results have been very promising. Learn more about the effects of CBD oil on eczema here.
All of this taken into consideration, if the symptoms and causes of eczema sound familiar to you and you think you may be suffering from eczema. it may be time to make an appointment with a dermatologist and explore further. From there you can discuss your options with a trained professional and rest easy knowing you’re in good hands.