What is Eczema? Eczema is the term generally used for any form of dermatitis (inflammation of the skin). Eczema is usually characterized by itchy, scaly rashes on the skin. Eczema is usually found behind the knees, on the insides of the arms and elbows, at the nape of the neck and on the scalp. Not to be confused with psoriasis, a skin disease that also involves inflamed, scaly skin but is caused by autoimmune issues, eczema is considered to have hereditary tendencies and can be triggered the same as an allergic reaction in some cases. Most cases of eczema are found in infants and children under the age of five. In many cases individuals will grow out of the skin condition before early adulthood.
Eczema can be caused by internal or external factors. The most common type of eczema is atopic dermatitis and the two terms are often used interchangeably. Many people with atopic eczema are likely to have asthma or hay fever or may have someone in their family with either condition. The next common type of eczema is contact dermatitis. Contact dermatitis has two types, allergic and irritant. Allergic contact dermatitis is a delayed allergic reaction to an allergen such as poison oak, while irritant contact dermatitis which is the result of a direct reaction to a detergent. Most cases of contact dermatitis are irritant.
What causes eczema?
Not much is known about what exactly causes most cases of eczema. Researchers agree that atopic dermatitis is generally genetically inherited and may have something to do with abnormalities in an antibody in the immune system called immunoglobulin E. Many of the triggers for eczema flare-ups are environmental factors such as exposure to excess heat or cold, solvents, sweating, harsh detergents, etc. Contact dermatitis is caused by an allergic reaction to an allergen or a direct reaction to a detergent. Eczema is often found in individuals who have a family history or asthma and allergies.
Common treatments for eczema
There is no cure for eczema, although in many cases a person will grow out of it before early adulthood. Depending on the severity of the eczema flare-ups, treatments will aim at controlling symptoms to reduce inflammation and itching. If the type of eczema is contact dermatitis, clearing one’s environment of the allergen that caused the reaction will help prevent flare-ups. Many believe that a healthier lifestyle change can help in reducing eczema flare-ups. This includes eating a healthy diet, exercise, and reducing stress levels. Using milder soaps and detergents as well as changing what types of clothing you wear is also recommended.
Atopic dermatitis can be manageable with over the counter or prescription topical medications. Corticosteroid creams and antihistamines may help control eczema rash outbreaks. For severe eczema rashes that do not respond to topical creams, doctors may recommend PUVA therapy (psoralen and ultraviolet A light) or chemotherapeutic agents.