Facts About Eczema

What is eczema?

Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a recurring, non-infectious, inflammatory skin condition affecting one in three Australasians at some stage throughout their lives. The condition is most common in people with a family history of an atopic disorder, including asthma or hay fever.

Atopic eczema is the most common form of the disease among Australasians. The skin becomes red, dry, itchy and scaly, and in severe cases, may weep, bleed and crust over, causing the sufferer much discomfort. Sometimes the skin may become infected. The condition can also flare and subside for no apparent reason.

Although eczema affects all ages, it usually appears in early childhood (in babies between two-to-six months of age) and disappears around six years of age. In fact, more than half of all eczema sufferers show signs within their first 12 months of life and 20 per cent of people develop eczema before the age of five.

Most children grow out of the condition, but a small percentage may experience severe eczema into adulthood. The condition can not only affect the individual sufferer, but also their family and friends. Adult onset eczema is often very difficult to treat and may be caused by other factors such as medications.

What causes eczema?

The exact cause of eczema is unknown – it appears to be linked to the following internal and external triggers:

Internal

  • A family history of eczema, asthma or hay fever (the strongest predictor): if both parents have eczema, there is an 80 per cent chance that their children may also develop eczema
  • Some foods and alcohol: dairy and wheat products, citrus fruits, eggs, nuts, seafood, chemical food additives, preservatives and colourings
  • Stress

External

  • Irritants: tobacco smoke, chemicals, weather (hot and humid or cold and dry conditions) and air conditioning or overheating
  • Allergens : house dust mites, moulds, grasses, plant pollens, foods, pets and clothing, soaps, shampoos and washing

What are the symptoms of eczema?

  • Moderate-to-severely itching skin
  • rash – dry, red, patchy or cracked skin. Commonly it appears on the face, hands, neck, inner elbows, backs of the knees and ankles, but can appear on any part of the body.
  • Skin weeping watery fluid
  • Rough, “leathery,” thick skin

How does eczema affect people?

Although eczema is itself is not a life-threatening disease, it can certainly have a debilitating effect on a sufferer, their carers and their family’s quality of life. Night-time itching can cause sleepless nights and place a significant strain upon relationships. Eczema ‘flare-ups’ can often lead to absenteeism from work, school, personal activities & responsibilities. For some severe sufferers it can also mean hospitalizations & costly treatments.

Is there a cure for eczema?

Although there is no known cure for eczema and it can be a lifelong condition, treatment can offer symptom control.

How do you diagnose eczema?

Only a doctor or skin specialist, usually a Dermatologist, can formally diagnose eczema

An accurate diagnosis requires a complete skin examination, a thorough medical history and the presence of a chronically recurring rash with intense itching that is consistent with eczema. Itching is an important clue to diagnosing eczema. If an itch is not present, chances are that the problem is not eczema.

While there is no test to determine whether a person has eczema, tests may be conducted to rule out other possibilities.

What are the treatment options for eczema?

The goal of treating eczema is to heal the skin and to both prevent and minimize flare-ups. This can be done by using a moisturizer to prevent the skin from cracking or itching and to offer relief. Well moisturized skin also helps block out germs that cause infections.

Treatment may also include:

  • Topical corticosteroids that help reduce inflammation and itchiness. This is the most common form of eczema treatment. Most topical corticosteroids are available on prescription. However some milder strength ones are available in pharmacy.
  • Sedating antihistamines that induce sleep and reduce itchiness.
  • bandaging that soothes the skin reduces itchiness and helps heal lesions.
  • Antibiotics that treat secondary infections.
  • Allergy testing (prick or blood tests) that may help establish trigger factors.
  • Dietician for diet assistance
  • Probiotics: specialized products have been shown to significantly improve the skin during trials. More severe cases of eczema may be treated by oral corticosteroids, systemic immunosuppressants and phototherapy.

It is important to seek professional medical advice before using any medication: whether over the counter or prescription to determine its side-effects.

What are the complications associated with eczema?

As eczema skin is often broken, it places the sufferer at risk of contracting skin infections. Professional medical advice should be sought at the first sign of any infection. An eczema sufferer is also at risk of developing herpes simplex type 1 (cold sores) which can spread over a large area of the skin and occasionally prove dangerous.

Sufferers are also at risk of contracting a widespread skin infection known as impetigo (school sores). In order to avoid any complications associated with vaccination, the disease should be discussed with a medical professional. However, normal childhood immunizations generally pose no risk to the eczema sufferer