What is Eczema?
Eczema is a collective term for several types of chronic skin conditions, also known as dermatitis. It is characterized by red, swollen and dry itchy skin. It most commonly affects the folds of the knees and elbows, around the neck, palms, cheeks and scalp, but may also appear in other parts of the body. Eczema is neither infectious nor contagious, but may lead to secondary infections due to the skin’s increased sensitivity.
The most common type of eczema experienced is atopic dermatitis, affecting both children and adults, but most prevalent amongst babies and infants. It can be caused due to a variety of factors, ranging from irritating substances, allergies, other infections or a genetic predisposition to it.
There are numerous types of eczema, varying in their causes, symptoms and treatment. These include; atopic dermatitis, discoid eczema, contact dermatitis, varicose dermatitis, seborrhoeic eczema, and dyshidrotic eczema. For every type, the severity of a condition can range from mild – small areas of occasionally itchy skin, to severe – widespread, red, inflamed skin causing constant itching and inflammation.
Eczema cannot be cured, but can be managed by avoiding certain triggers. It undergoes a cycle of a flare up, followed by a period of remission, which can last for weeks or even years. Eczema often develops alongside other conditions such as asthma and hay fever.
Eczema does not always present with unique symptoms, they often closely resemble other skin conditions. However, the most common symptom is a red, dry and itchy rash appearing on the palms, inside the elbows, back of the knees, face and scalp.
These rashes usually start out as dry and extremely itchy skin, which eventually becomes swollen and sore. It gets worse the more it is scratched, and could begin to leak a clear fluid, which then crusts over and begins to scale. For infants, eczema first develops as a scaly rash on the face and chin, with small visible cracks. Other symptoms such as oozing fluid, yellow crusts or yellowish-white spots, along with high temperatures, could be the sign of an infection, which must be addressed.
Each type of eczema presents differently and therefore have varying signs and symptoms.
Atopic Dermatitis: This is the most common form of eczema, it begins early in life and appears as rashes on the cheeks, neck, elbow and knee.
Discoid Eczema: These are rashes which appear in circular or oval patches on the skin.
Contact Dermatitis: This comes about when the body comes in contact with a particular irritant substance.
Varicose Eczema: It mostly affects the lower legs, and is caused due to problems in blood flow through the leg veins.
Seborrhoeic Eczema: This appears as red, scaly patches that develop on the side of the nose, eyebrows, ears and scalp.
Dyshidrotic Eczema: This causes tiny blisters to erupt across the palms of the hands.
These symptoms have some common triggers, which set off the flare-ups, they include the use of irritants such as soaps and detergents, stress, fluctuating weather and sometimes even food allergies.
The exact cause of eczema and its various forms is unknown, it is likely to be caused by a combination of factors.
Eczema develops when the skin in unable to retain moisture, making the skin more likely to react to certain triggers. In most cases, people with eczema are likely to have a family member with the same condition, as genes can determine the skin’s sensitivity. An overactive immune system and the likelihood of developing frequent allergies also significantly contribute to the probability of developing the condition.
There are numerous triggers, which may set off the condition, and continue to make it worse once it has developed. These include;
‐ Irritants – soaps, detergents
‐ Environmental factors and allergens – cold and dry weather, dampness, house dust, pet fur, pollen etc.
‐ Food allergies – allergies to cow’s milk, eggs, peanuts, soya or wheat
‐ Materials such as wool and synthetic fabrics
‐ Repeated wetting and drying of skin
‐ Hormonal changes – women may find their symptoms getting worse in the days before their period or during pregnancy
Diagnosing eczema can sometimes be a challenge, as it closely resembles other skin conditions. There are no particular tests for it
Your GP will perform a physical examination of your skin, closely studying its symptoms. The doctor may ask for a skin biopsy, by taking a small piece of the affected area. This can determine the condition and type.
Doctors will usually ask about your family history, due to the condition’s genetic nature. Additionally, you might be asked to undertake allergy skin testing, it is sometimes useful in identifying food allergies that may be triggering symptoms.
A diagnosis is finally made based on the severity of the rashes and itchiness, how long the symptoms have persisted, how often they come and go, family history and the presence of any other related conditions such as asthma and hay fever.
Eczema cannot be cured, but can certainly be managed through a variety of treatment options. Treatment can help relieve symptoms, and may improve your condition over time.
We at The Online Surgery offer a combination of various treatment options and medicines based on your condition type and severity.