Skin Condition: Eczema

‘Also known as dermatitis, eczema is a red, itchy skin complaint with several variants, the most common of which is atopic eczema, a condition that affects one if five children in the UK,’ says Sarah Wakelin, a consultant dermatologist at St Mary’s Hospital, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust.

What is it? 
 The term ‘atopic’ means sensitivity to allergens, such as pollen, pet fur and house dust mites . Though most children with atopic eczema will be clear of the condition by their teens, the condition can persist into adulthood or return after several years.

What are the symptoms?
The main symptom of atopic eczema is itch’, states the British Association of Dermatologists. Other symptoms can include red and dry skin that becomes cracks, bleeds and becomes infected as a result of scratching. Such symptoms worsen during a ‘flare-up’, which can lead to disturbed sleep. Any part of the skin can be affected by eczema but the bends of the elbows and knees and around the wrists and neck are most commonly affected .

What are the causes?
Eczema is probably caused by a mixture of inherited (genetic) factors and environmental factors. Sufferers inherit a tendency to develop eczema from their parents and then, when they are exposed to certain environmental factors such as allergens, eczema appears. Additionally, certain triggers, including detergents, stress and even sweat and can make symptoms worse. 

What treatments are available?
‘Eczema is a long-term or chronic condition that is incurable but can be treated by a skincare regime that includes regular moisturising to counteract skin dryness and the use of steroid creams and ointments to reduce redness and itching,’ states Dr Wakelin. In addition, antibiotics can treat eczema that has become infected, antihistamines can be prescribed to stop itching, topical immunosuppressants may reduce inflammation and oral steroids can treat severe flare-ups.

Can it be prevented?
Although eczema itself cannot be prevented, the likelihood of flare-ups can be minimised by reducing scratching and avoiding triggers that irritate skin such as soap, bubble bath and certain types of clothing.

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