Eczema is actually the most common chronic itchy skin condition in children, affecting 10-20 percent of kids. It also affects adults and the statistics look very similar. One of the toughest parts of the journey can be trying to get to the bottom of what is triggering your itchy skin and trying to soothe the itchiness. For some, an itchy skin rash, like eczema or hives may be an indicator that you have a food intolerance or reaction to food versus an environmental allergen for others.
What is Eczema?
Eczema is a common and non-contagious skin condition that causes the skin to become red, inflamed and itchy. It varies in severity and is characterised by patches of hot, itchy, scaly skin that may produce weeping blisters and a clear discharge. Repeated scratching can cause the skin to become raw and bleed, and thickening or discolouration may occur. The term eczema refers to a group of conditions responsible for this rash-like reaction in the skin. The most common form is known as atopic dermatitis or atopic eczema. Although not contagious, it tends to be a chronic condition with no known cure. While eczema is very common in children, it can strike at any age.
What are the signs and symptoms of Eczema?
Eczema flares, which appear on the skin as red, scaly, and itchy patches, can show up almost anywhere on your body, but the most common areas are backs of knees, inside of the elbows, neck, wrist, hands and feet. Using gentle, fragrance-free skin care products, taking warm—not hot—showers and keeping the skin hydrated is key in keeping the itchiness and irritation under control.
In children, the condition is quite easy to recognise. The skin might appear drier than normal. The location of atopic eczema is also quite typical. Patches of atopic eczema in infants and children up to the age of two usually appear first on the cheeks, forehead and scalp. They may occasionally also be seen on the neck and the body. Once the baby starts to crawl, eczema can be seen on the ankles, shins, wrists and forearms. From the age of three onwards, eczema is less frequently on the face, instead of appearing on the skin creases in front of the elbow and behind the knee. The upper arms and legs may also be affected, as well as hands and feet.
As you would expect if the skin barrier function is less than ideal, germs are attracted to the skin, which spells trouble for children with itchy skin as infected eczema becomes more inflamed, itchy and more difficult to treat. One particular bacteria, called Staphylococcus Auresus, love to live on the skin of children with atopic eczema. An infection is obvious: skin has a yellowish crust and discharge is visible, while eczema itself is unstable and painful. The bacteria is not always obvious, however, so it is important to maintain a daily skincare routine (as recommended by the National Eczema Society) that will help to improve the skin’s overall cleanliness and prevent eczema flare-ups. Moisturisers should be applied several times every day to help the outer layer of your skin function better as a barrier to the environment. The drier your skin, the more frequently you should apply a moisturiser. Don’t forget: when choosing a new moisturiser, it’s vital to test a small area of skin to check if you are allergic to any of the ingredients.
What causes Eczema?
The exact cause of eczema remains unknown, but it’s thought to be the immune system’s reaction to certain environmental irritants or triggers. The most common triggers for eczema include: dry air, dust, pollen, synthetic fabrics in clothing or bedsheets, certain detergents or household cleaners, stress, heat, hot water or food allergies.
We know that ‘genetic’ (inherited) factors play some part and probably make a child more at risk of developing eczema or other dry skin conditions, asthma and hay fever. However, it’s not all down to genetics, there are also a number of environmental factors that trigger atopic eczema in a susceptible child. Interestingly, these triggers are not always allergies. In fact, irritation caused by ordinary soaps, wearing wool next to the skin, overheating at night or even contact with water, dusty materials and pet hair may be more significant for eczema than specific allergies to foods or house dust mites.
A recent study has shown that an abnormality in the gene that helps to maintain the skin barrier has been closely linked to the onset of itchy skin conditions. A defect in the skin barrier makes the skin more susceptible to infection and irritation and allows allergens to penetrate the skin, causing itching and inflammation.
Types of Eczema
When your skin is red, inflamed or itchy, eczema may be to blame. The term eczema refers to a group of conditions responsible for this rash-like reaction in the skin. The most common form of eczema is known as atopic dermatitis or atopic eczema. While eczema is very common in children, it can strike at any age. Although Eczema is not contagious, it tends to be a chronic condition with no known cure. There are measures you can take to help alleviate the symptoms. Self-care treatments are important. Using gentle, fragrance-free skin care products and keeping the skin hydrated is key in keeping the itchiness and irritation associated with eczema under control.
What triggers Eczema?
There is no specific, single cause for eczema, although in some cases it is thought to be hereditary. Many factors in a person’s environment can cause a flare-up. Common triggers are:
- Food Sensitivity and Food Allergens
- Reactions to washing detergents, soaps, bath salts and dust mites and their droppings
- Extreme weather conditions and central heating
- Being unwell, for example, having a common cold
- Teething in babies
- Dryness of the skin
Unfortunately, no, it cannot be cured, but there are many ways of controlling it. Eczema in childhood is a condition which tends to come and go. The good news is that most children will ‘grow out’ of eczema eventually. Around 60% to 70% of children who have eczema in the first few years of their lives are clear of it by the age of 11. Unfortunately, however, it is impossible to say which child will grow out of it and when, and some children may have the condition for life and need to avoid irritants such as soaps or bubble baths.
Atopic eczema maybe troublesome for people in certain jobs that involve contact with irritant materials, such as catering, hairdressing, cleaning or healthcare work. Fortunately, while there is no known cure, many effective natural treatments are available to alleviate your symptoms and reduce inflammation and soothe your skin. Many doctors would prescribe cortisone-based products. We believe in a more natural and holistic approach and would recommend first to try a different bathing option and explore some diet changes.
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