What is Eczema?
Eczema is a skin condition that refers to inflammation of the skin. It is also known as dermatitis and is characterized by itching and dry, scaly red patches. Not only does eczema cause tremendous discomfort but it often results in unexpected flare-ups triggered by allergy reactions or environmental factors. This condition affects people of all ages but it is most common in infants and children. In 60% to 70% of these cases, infants and children eventually outgrow eczema. Although, there is no cure for eczema a combination of conventional medications, natural therapies and modifying your lifestyle can help.
There are many different forms of eczema and these include:
This is the most common form of eczema characterized by itchy, inflamed skin. This type of eczema tends to come and go. It tends to run in families and often people with a family history of allergic conditions such as hayfever or asthma develop atopic eczema. It affects 10% of infants and 3% of adults in the United States.
Irritant contact eczema
Irritant contact eczema occurs when skin comes into contact with certain substances such as cosmetics, household detergents, acids or chemicals. It causes itchiness, redness and an irritating skin reaction in adults that often develops on the hands.
Allergic contact eczema
Allergic contact dermatitis occurs when the skin comes into contact with an allergen such as jewelry, certain metals or clothing fabrics. It also causes itchiness, redness and an irritating skin reaction.
Infantile seborrhoeic eczema
This condition is also referred to as cradle cap and is very common in babies. Infantile seborrhoeic eczema is characterized by dry flaking skin on the scalp or nappy area – it tends to spread quickly.
Adult seborrhoeic eczema
This form of eczema appears as mild dandruff on the scalps of adults and can spread to the face, ears, neck and chest. The skin becomes red, inflamed and starts to flake. Adult seborrhoeic eczema may even be more serious than the infant version.
Varicose eczema affects the lower legs of older adults and is usually as a result of poor circulation. Dry, itchy skin develops around the ankles or shins, and ulcers may develop if the skin is left untreated.
This form of eczema is most common in adults and is characterized by a small red patch on the lower legs or trunk. These patches can erupt or weep if left untreated.
What causes Eczema?
The exact cause of eczema is not known. Researchers believe that hereditary factors as well as a malfunction within the immune system may contribute to the cause of eczema.
Certain factors or triggers may also be responsible for the outbreaks of eczema and these include:
Irritants or substances such as soaps, cosmetics, household cleaners or detergents, chemicals, clothing, jewelry or sweat
Allergens such as dust mites, moulds, plant pollens, pets and any number of pollutants
Sensitivity to certain foods, particularly dairy and wheat products, citrus fruits, eggs, nuts, chemical food additives, preservatives and colorings
Changes in Stress
temperature or humidity
How is Eczema diagnosed?
The diagnosis of eczema is based on the symptoms, a thorough physical examination and medical history. Eczema can sometimes be very difficult to diagnose and often mimics other skin conditions.
Your health practitioner will ask certain questions to help confirm a diagnosis – when the condition started, if the condition is irritated by contact with materials or products, changes in the environment. Certain tests such as a skin biopsy, allergy tests or skin patch test may also be performed.
Symptoms and signs
The common symptoms and signs of eczema include:
Itching that may range from moderate to severe in certain areas
Dry, scaly red or patchy skin that resembles a rash
Inflamed areas that may bleed when scratched or ooze watery fluids
Cracked, painful skin
Help for people with Eczema
Treatment of eczema generally depends on the age of the individual, overall health status, type of eczema and the severity thereof. The main aim of treatment is to reduce the symptoms of itching and inflammation, and prevent the condition from worsening.
Medications such as corticosteroids antihistamines or immuno-suppressants may either be administered orally or topically. Many of these medications have potentially harmful side effects and long term use is usually discouraged. Another treatment option that people with eczema may also consider is ultraviolet therapy (phototherapy).
For treatment to be effective, certain lifestyle changes are also very important. Eating a healthy diet and avoiding foods that may contain allergens and aggravate the skin, exercising regularly, drinking lots of water and keeping the skin well moisturized can make a significant difference to your quality of life.
Although many over-the-counter and prescription topical creams are effective for eczema, using these treatments for extended periods can damage the skin. Natural and holistic treatments are a safer, gentler alternative to use without the harmful side effects or allergic reactions.
Best of all, you can use them as often as you like, for as long as you like. Herbal ingredients such as Vitamin E oil, Mentha pipererita oil, Bulbinella frutescens tr. and Aloe ferox tr. work quickly to soothe and promote healthy, trouble free skin. Other highly effective herbs include Glycorrhiza glabra, Melia azadirachta, Sambucus nigra and Stellaria media which help to provide relief from itching and discomfort and reduce eczema patches. In addition, Matricaria chamomilla, Asparathus linearis and Galium aparine also prevents infection and inflammation as well as reduces scarring.
Tips to cope with eczema
There are a number of helpful tips that can help you cope with and minimize the symptoms of eczema:
Eat a healthy diet and avoid foods such as dairy products, mushrooms, or crustacean meat (lobster, shrimp, clams or oysters) that may contain allergens and aggravate the body
Bathe in cool or warm water, never hot and always apply a moisturizer to your skin afterwards to seal in moisture
Use a mild soap such as Dove or Oil of Olay when washing
Moisturize daily to prevent dry skin – use a cheap but very effective moisturizer such as Vaseline
Avoid using irritants such as household cleansers, detergents, perfumes, soaps, turpentine or gasoline that may aggravate your skin
Wear plastic or vinyl gloves when working in water
Keep nails short to avoid scratching or rubbing the itchy area
Avoid activities that may your skin to become hot and sweaty
Wear cotton or cotton blend clothing and avoid wool and synthetic fabrics as they can irritate the skin
Use protective coverings for mattresses or pillows if you or your child is allergic to dust or dust mites
Learn to reduce stress by practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing exercises, meditation or listening to music
Keep pets outside and avoid having in the bedroom