Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic skin condition characterized by dry, itchy, and inflamed skin. It can occur at any age, but it is most common in infants and young children. While the exact cause of eczema is not fully understood, it is believed to involve a combination of genetic, immune system, and environmental factors.
The symptoms of eczema can vary from mild to severe and may include:
- Dry, sensitive skin: Eczema often starts with dry skin that is easily irritated and prone to itching.
- Itching: Itchiness is a hallmark symptom of eczema and can be intense. Scratching can lead to further skin damage and worsen the condition.
- Redness and inflammation: Affected areas of the skin may become red, swollen, and inflamed.
- Rash: Eczema typically presents as a rash, which can appear as small, raised bumps or as larger, scaly patches. The rash may ooze or crust over in more severe cases.
- Thickened, leathery skin: Chronic scratching and irritation can cause the skin to thicken and become rough or leathery.
- Skin discoloration: Prolonged eczema can result in changes in skin color, making the affected areas lighter or darker than the surrounding skin.
What is the cause of eczema? Here are some of the main factors that contribute to the development of eczema:
Genetic Predisposition: Eczema tends to run in families, indicating a genetic component. Certain variations in genes can make individuals more susceptible to developing eczema.
Immune System Dysfunction: People with eczema often have an overactive immune system that responds excessively to irritants and triggers. This immune system dysfunction can lead to inflammation and skin barrier dysfunctions, which are characteristic features of eczema.
Environmental Factors: Various environmental factors can trigger or exacerbate eczema symptoms. These include allergens like pollen, dust mites, pet dander, certain foods, and irritants such as harsh soaps, detergents, and chemicals. Extreme temperatures, dry air, and low humidity can also worsen eczema symptoms.
Skin Barrier Dysfunction: Individuals with eczema have a defective skin barrier, which makes their skin more susceptible to irritants, allergens, and moisture loss. This impaired barrier function allows irritants to penetrate the skin, leading to inflammation and triggering eczema flare-ups.
Allergic Reactions: Eczema is closely associated with allergies, especially in children. Food allergies, such as to cow’s milk or eggs, can contribute to eczema symptoms in susceptible individuals. Allergic reactions can trigger an immune response that manifests as eczema.
It’s important to note that while these factors play a significant role as regards what is the cause of eczema, the exact combination and severity of factors can vary from person to person. Eczema is a chronic condition, and managing it typically involves identifying and avoiding triggers, moisturizing the skin, using topical medications to reduce inflammation, and following a comprehensive treatment plan under the guidance of a holistic dermatologist.
The treatment of eczema aims to relieve symptoms, reduce inflammation, and manage flare-ups. Here are some common approaches to eczema treatment:
- Moisturizers: Keeping the skin well-hydrated is essential for managing eczema. Regularly applying moisturizers helps to restore and maintain the skin’s barrier function, reducing dryness and itchiness. Look for fragrance-free and hypoallergenic moisturizers and apply them immediately after bathing or showering.
- Topical Corticosteroids: These anti-inflammatory medications are commonly prescribed to reduce inflammation and itching during eczema flare-ups. They come in various strengths and should be used as directed by a healthcare professional. Long-term use of potent corticosteroids should be monitored carefully to avoid potential side effects.
- Topical Calcineurin Inhibitors: These medications, such as tacrolimus and pimecrolimus, are alternatives to corticosteroids for treating eczema. They help to reduce inflammation and are particularly useful for sensitive areas like the face and skin folds. They are generally used when corticosteroids are not suitable or as a maintenance treatment.
- Antihistamines: Oral antihistamines may be recommended to help relieve itching and promote better sleep during eczema flare-ups. They can cause drowsiness, so it’s important to follow the recommended dosage and consult a healthcare professional.
- Wet Dressings: Applying wet dressings or wet wraps to the affected areas can provide soothing relief and help to hydrate the skin. This technique involves applying a damp cloth or using specialized dressings over moisturizers or medicated creams.
- Avoiding Triggers: Identifying and avoiding triggers that worsen eczema symptoms is crucial. Common triggers include certain fabrics, soaps, detergents, harsh chemicals, allergens, and extreme temperatures. Keep a diary to track potential triggers and discuss them with a healthcare professional.
- Allergen Management: If allergies contribute to eczema flare-ups, allergen management may be necessary. This can involve measures such as dust mite covers for bedding, pet avoidance, and eliminating specific foods if they are identified as triggers.
It’s important to work closely with a holistic dermatologist, typically a dermatologist, to develop an individualized treatment plan based on the severity of symptoms, triggers, and the specific needs of the patient. They can provide guidance, monitor progress, and adjust the treatment approach as needed.