Eczema is a skin condition characterised by a red, itchy, scaly rash on certain parts of the body. It is very, very common – 1 in 20 kids have eczema, and between 2 and 5 in 100 adults have it. Most often it appears as a kid, but then might go away in the teen years, but for some it can appear or reappear in adulthood. People who have asthma and hay fever are more likely to have eczema. Different people have different severities – for some they may not be overly bothered by it, but for others constant itch and disfiguring skin changes have a massive impact on their quality of life. Often eczema symptoms come and go over time, returning during “flare ups”; these can have triggers, such as foods, contact with certain chemicals or stress, but sometimes they may happen without any obvious reason.
What causes it?
Nobody fully understands the cause yet, but there are certainly genetic factors (one of the skin proteins is affected by this) and environmental factors (everything from chemicals to pollution to stress).
So if I have eczema, or my child has eczema, what should I do about it?
Firstly, it is a good idea to seek advice from a medical professional. If you or your child is diagnosed with eczema, there is a standard treatment algorithm to follow, which is based on controlling the inflammation (usually with topical steroid creams), moisturising and treating any infection. It is also important to remove any known triggers and to reduce itch, because scratching does a lot of damage to the skin – tearing it, resulting in infection and scarring.
Some products will keep the itch at bay while also repairing and moisturising the skin – a great combination effect. Some people also get help from eliminating certain foods from their diet: if there are known triggers these should be avoided, but some nutritionists also advise avoiding certain substances; this is an area of ongoing research, and some medical doctors may be dismissive of this approach before more definitive research is available. You should also take care to use very gentle washes for bathing and gentle detergent for washing clothes.
Many people ask why there is no one single cure for eczema; well, hopefully there will one day be a solution, but because there are so many facets to this condition, it will not likely be a single magic pill.
What is the longer term picture?
The importance of moisturising and preventing scratching cannot be underestimated; there are limits to the use of steroids over longer periods, so maintaining a healthy skin is critical. This can be achieved by a good skincare routine: moisturising with a skin repair cream – look for creams containing ceramides; use of an itch relief cream whenever the skin is itchy, to prevent scratching and damaging the skin; and using gentle body wash products and avoiding scrubbing the skin when bathing. In addition, get nutritional advice on how to modify your diet and maintain a healthy mind – stress is a well-known trigger for eczema.