Atopic eczema (or atopic dermatitis) is a skin condition that can occur at any age, causing itch and redness. It is a chronic condition that usually appears periodically, sometimes accompanied by asthma or hay fever.
Atopic eczema does not have a known cure but various treatments can relieve the symptoms while prevention can prevent more frequent occurrences.
Symptoms of atopic eczema can vary, depending on the person. However, the most common symptoms include dry skin and itching (usually more severe at night), red or brown patches on the hands and legs (sometimes on the neck, eyelids, or the upper chest), thickened, scaly or swollen skin, and small, raised bumps that sometimes leak fluid.
This condition most commonly appears at the age of 5, persisting throughout adolescence and even adulthood. It can even be years between two occurrences - the frequency varies in both children and adults.
When it comes to infants, the rash that usually appears can lead to crusting conditions. The rash is usually visible on the infant's face and scalp, but sometimes it can also appear on its legs, arms, chest, and back.
In children and teens, the dry rash usually appears in the bends of their knees and elbows, on the wrist and ankles, and sometimes on their neck.
When appearing in adults, on the other hand, the rash breaks out on the face, feet, back of the knees, and hands and wrists.
One of the roles of healthy skin is to provide protection against bacteria, allergens, and irritants. However, if there is a gene variation related to eczema, the skin would not be able to properly provide that protection, becoming susceptible to allergens and environmental factors.
In children, food allergies can be responsible for the appearance of atopic eczema. In that case, the immune system reacts to something irritating. Another possibility for the occurrence of eczema is the skin barrier that can't hold in the moisture and lets the germs in easily. There is even a correlation between asthma, allergies, and eczema, especially if they have been present in your family history. Alternatively, it has been noted that some people get eczema as a reaction to rough fabric, stress, animal dander, soap or detergent, or having a cold or a respiratory infection.
As an experienced dermatologist in Sydney states, severe cases of atopic eczema sometimes need a team approach to successfully fight this condition. With mild and moderate symptoms, the most important goal is to ease and prevent itching because itching can lead to an infection.
Home remedies can help to relieve some of the symptoms - usually, a lotion or a cream will help with keeping the skin hydrated. It's best to apply the cream/lotion after taking a shower or a bath, while the skin is still wet. Over-the-counter products, for example, hydrocortisone cream, can also be helpful, as well as cold compresses that soothe itching.
As far as medications go, your doctor may prescribe you ointments and creams with corticosteroids that can reduce inflammation but if the area gets infected, you will have to take antibiotics. Phototherapy is also one of the options, as well as cyclosporine drug and tar treatment (treatment with chemicals that soothe the itch).
Several complications could occur if eczema is not treated properly or if it gets out of control:
Chronic scaly, itchy skin - this is a condition called neurodermatitis. It starts with itchy skin but scratching it only makes it worse. In time, scratching can turn into a habit, causing the skin to become thick and discolored.
Asthma and hay fever - the statistics show that more than half of children who develop eczema also develop hay fever and asthma by the age of 13.
Skin infections - if you continue scratching the itchy area, it may lead to cracks and open sores, which increases the risk of infection due to easier access to bacteria and viruses.
Allergic contact dermatitis - a condition frequent in people with atopic eczema.
There are certain steps you can take to prevent frequent occurrence of atopic eczema:
moisturize your skin twice a day but make sure you choose a product that suits your skin type
identify triggers and avoid them - it can be stress, sweat, certain soaps and detergents, or even obesity or pollen
limit your baths and showers to up to 15 minutes and don't use hot water but warm
switch to gentle soaps because aggressive deodorant and antibacterial soaps can remove natural oils from your skin and dry it out
after taking a bath or a shower, simply pat your skin gently with a soft towel instead of rubbing it
avoid wearing clothes made of scratchy materials such as wool
learn how to manage stress successfully
try to avoid sudden changes in temperature and humidity, whatever they may be
pay attention to the food you are eating - you may be allergic or intolerant to some type of foods without realizing it
keep the air in the bedroom humid by placing a humidifier there.
Atopic eczema may well be a condition that medicine doesn't yet have a cure for but the good news is that it can be managed very successfully. If you take care of your immune system and take preventive steps, it could be years before you experience another occurrence of atopic eczema. Even if it does appear, knowing how to react properly and how to soothe symptoms is equally important.