Eczema (atopic dermatitis)
Introduction to Eczema (atopic dermatitis)
Eczema, also known as dermatitis, is a group of disorders characterised by dry skin.
What is Eczema?
Eczema, also known as dermatitis, is a group of disorders characterised by dry skin. It is highly variable in presentation and is not contagious. One in five children in the UK suffer from Eczema and in the majority of cases, the condition develops before the age of five. Eczema can improve dramatically with age and half of cases improve by the age of 11. However, eczema can remain throughout adulthood. This passage describes atopic eczema which accounts for the majority of cases. However, other types do exist, including discoid eczema, contact dermatitis, varicose eczema, seborrheic eczema and dyshidrotic eczema. If you think you or your child is suffering from the condition, please see a dermatologist or GP.
What causes Eczema?
The development of eczema is likely a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental triggers. Eczema does run in families and research suggests a genetic link to other conditions such as atopic asthma and hay fever. Environmental triggers of eczema vary between individuals. Common examples include irritants such as soaps, allergens such as pollen and pet fur, hot or cold temperatures and stress.
What are the symptoms of Eczema?
Atopic eczema causes dry, cracked and itchy skin that may be sore. The course of the disease is usually ‘intermittent,’ meaning that there are times when the symptoms flare-up. Atopic eczema can occur anywhere on the body, but is most common on the hands, insides of elbows, backs of knees and face.
Itchy skin can lead to scratching which in turn may make the itching worse. This could lead to a skin infection. If you develop an infection you may notice fluid oozing from the skin, yellow-white spots appearing and swelling occurring. Furthermore, you may feel generally unwell and develop a fever. If you suspect an infection, you should see your GP or dermatologist.
How is Eczema treated?
Though there is no definitive cure for eczema, there are several types of treatment that can relieve some of the symptoms. The main categories are emollients (moisturising creams) to prevent the skin from becoming dry, topical corticosteroids to address inflammation and antihistamines to control itching. Furthermore, you can help yourself by not itching and by avoiding environmental triggers. If these treatments and strategies are not effective, a dermatologist may suggest a second line treatment such as a calcineurin inhibitor, phototherapy or immunosuppressants.