What is Eczema and Who Gets It?

Eczema refers to a common skin disease called "Atopic Dermatitis." This causes a dry, itchy,  red rash on the skin. You will have very intense scratching that can cause patches of dry skin can bleed, crack or crust and get infected. Most people with eczema get it as children. However, many people still have the disease as adults. Adult symptoms tend to be milder. It's less common to get this skin condition for the first time as an adult. These types of inflammation are not allergies, however, the disease can flare-up when you're around things that cause an allergic reaction. The body's immune system overreacts to substances, called allergens, that are usually not harmful. This can cause hives, itching, swelling, sneezing, and a runny nose. Areas affected by atopic dermatitis must be moisturized daily and medication must be applied when necessary as prescribed by a doctor.

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic condition that causes the skin to become extremely itchy. Persistent scratching can lead to redness, blisters that "weep" clear fluid, bleeding, and crusting of certain areas of the skin. People with atopic dermatitis also can be more susceptible to bacterial, viral, and fungal skin infections.

Nearly 31 million Americans suffer from eczema-related symptoms.  Most types cause dry, itchy skin and rashes on the face, inside the elbows and behind the knees and on the hands and feet. Scratching the surface can cause it to turn red, and to swell and itch even more.  The rash is not contagious.  And the cause is not known. Both genetic and environmental factors likely cause atopic dermatitis. Inflammation and the areas affected may get better or worse over time, but it is often a long-lasting disease. People who have it may also develop hay fever and asthma.

The most common type of eczema is atopic dermatitis in children.   Children who have atopic dermatitis will often have the disease into the adulthood with a highly variable level of severity and frequency.  Sometimes the symptoms can be chronic which means a person always has at least one area of their body with symptoms. Treatments may include topical medications, skin creams, light therapy, and practicing good skin care.  Doctors often prescribe  steroid creams to calm down the inflammatory reaction. Long term use of topical steroids have side effects.  More doctors are utilizing effective and less harmful non-steroidal topical medications for long term use.

There are several types of eczema:

Atopic Dermatitis: More than half of people with eczema have this. It's the most severe type and it lasts the longest. The symptoms often start in childhood.  It includes dry, itchy, and scaly skin and is often located insides of the elbows and backs of the knees. It can also cause rashes on the cheeks. The flare-ups often come with crusted sores caused by infection.

Dyshidrotic Eczema: Also known as pompholyx eczema, causes itchy water blisters on your palms of hands and soles of feet.  It also brings a burning sensation and pricking feeling. Dyshidrotic eczema affects adults over 40 years old, especially those with allergies. It's also common among people who put their hands and feet in water a lot. People who work with chromium, cobalt, or nickel have a higher chance of developing pompholyx eczema.  Stress can also trigger this form.

Nummular eczema:"Nummular," the Latin word for "coin," refers to the coin-shaped spots on the skin. It's also called discoid eczema because the scaly patches look like discs. Its cause is unknown.  The spots, which can be dry and scaly or weeping (and may or may not be itchy) might be triggered by reactions to inflammation or dry skin. The lower legs, forearms, and trunk are the most commonly affected areas.

Unfortunately, there are no blood or lab tests to diagnose atopic dermatitis. Your doctor will look at your skin and assess your symptoms to figure out the severity of your eczema, and decide on treatment. Each different type of eczema can range in severity from mild to severe.

Eczema Research

Scientists thought that all types of eczema were caused by allergies (eczema and allergies). Now we know that the connection is more complicated. Researchers are still uncovering new details about the causes of atopic dermatitis that may lead to better treatments. Some recent areas of study include:

Genes. Researchers have found that some people with the condition have a gene flaw that causes a lack of a type of protein, called filaggrin, in their skin. It helps form the protective outer layer of our skin and keeps out germs and more. A lack of filaggrin dries out and weakens that skin barrier. This makes skin vulnerable to irritants, like soaps and detergents. It also makes it easier for allergens to get into the body. Scientists believe that that makes people more sensitive to those allergens and even some foods.

How the body reacts to allergens.

Some research has found that people with eczema may have a defect in their skin barrier. Small gaps in the skin make it dry out quickly which lets germs and allergens into the body. When allergens enter the skin, they prompt the body to make chemicals that lead to redness and swelling, called inflammation. Research also points to a problem with a type of white blood cell that releases chemicals that help control allergic reactions in the body. This may help explain why people with eczema have outbreaks when they're around allergens.

Too many antibodies. Immunoglobulin E (IgE) is a type of antibody that plays a role in the body's allergic response. People with eczema have higher-than-normal levels of it. Researchers are working to understand why people with the skin condition make too much IgE and what role this may play in the disease.

Eczema Treatment

The current medical treatments reduce itching and swelling, but they tend to only focus on making the symptoms more bearable.  Some of them also have nasty side effects.  Antihistamines taken orally are used as a form of treatment. Some scientists claim that this isn't an effective therapy because it doesn't treat the skin.  Oral antihistamines only treat the itching.  Antihistamines often can cause drowsiness and leave you sluggish during the day.  Antibiotics sometimes are required to address an infection caused in an area by bacteria.

Infections from atopic dermatitis are often due to itching, which stirs up bacteria on our skin. This can cause a bacterial infection on skin that is open.  Antibiotics may be necessary at times but they can also kill our good bacteria or 'normal flora' on our skin.  This can weaken the immune system.  Topical steroid creams are frequently used but can result in diminishing effectiveness. Often more powerful topical steroids need to be applied to achieve the same results. Once users discontinue topical steroids the return of eczema is devastating. Topical steroids can also cause atrophy or skin and subcutaneous fat layer below the skin. Most doctors recommend non-steroidal prescription and OTC creams today.

Natural Treatment Options for Eczema

An eczema journal can help keep track of flare ups. Natural remedies can also alleviate symptoms and build a path towards remission and health. These natural remedies are often used to avoid the cost, inconvenience, and side effects of prescription drugs and invasive treatments.   Topical medications will not help until you address the underlying problem.  Sometimes diet and lifestyle factors can cause or contribute to the eczema flare-ups.   Applying coconut oil and lotion can help cool pain. Make sure you are not allergic to coconut oil before you use it. 'Sea Spray', a liquid treatment for eczema,  can also relieve pain. Bathing in magnesium helps heal the skin.

How to separate the good eczema treatments from the junk.

When taking care of skin it's important to pick the right products, no matter if it's natural skin remedies or medications.   Pay attention to quality of ingredients, ingredients which address dryness, allergens, bacteria, and provide a protective barrier, and offer a  money-back guarantee.

This article is for educational purposes only. It is not meant to diagnose or treat your health problem. Always consult your doctor before seeking treatment.

Written by Rachel Duran for The Healthy Moms Magazine and legally licensed through the Matcha publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@getmatcha.com.

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