Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is a long-term chronic skin disorder that produces scaly and itchy rashes on the skin.
Eczema is caused by a hypersensitive reaction in the skin. People who suffer from eczema may be missing certain proteins in their skin, which causes this sensitivity. The condition is related to other allergic conditions such as asthma, hay fever or other seasonal allergies, but eczema is not caused by allergies. Many people who have eczema also suffer from asthma or allergies, and often test positive on allergy skin tests.
Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is most common in infants and young children. Ninety percent of patients develop eczema before the age of five. It can start as early as two months, and many people do outgrow it by adulthood.
Eczema causes redness, scaly patches, inflammation and swelling of the skin. Other symptoms can include blisters (more common in women), bumpy skin, itchy skin, and changes in skin color. Many triggers can make eczema worse, such as:
To properly diagnose eczema, a physical exam and possibly a skin biopsy must be done. A skin biopsy can rule out other causes of excessively dry or itchy skin. Allergy skin testing may also be helpful.
Taking care of your skin at home is the best first step and may reduce the need for medical treatment. Avoid scratching at the skin. Itching and dryness may be relieved with petroleum jelly or gentle moisturizers without alcohol or fragrances (those formulated for sensitive skin may work best). Topical steroid creams and antihistamines may also help.
For younger children, keep fingernails trimmed short to help prevent scratching. Gloves worn at nighttime may also help prevent involuntary scratching during sleep. A humidifier in the bedroom can help those with extensive dryness.
Avoid things that can make eczema conditions worse such as irritants in clothing, like wool or lanolin; strong soaps or detergents; household chemicals and solvents; stress; and sudden temperature changes.
As always, consulting with your doctor about your at-home skin regimen is vital. For more severe eczema symptoms, a doctor may prescribe stronger antihistamines, antibiotics or topical immunomodulators.