Written by: Deen Kurrimbux

Otherwise known as atopic dermatitis, Eczema is a condition that makes the skin of the sufferer red and itchy. Commonality is in children but can occur at any age. It is a chronic (long lasting) condition which tends to flare and fade periodically and is often accompanied by asthma and hay fever.

There is no known cure for eczema but treatment can limit discomfort caused by the itching, inflammation and prevent new outbreaks.

Symptoms vary between individuals but commonly include:

  • Itching, which may be severe, especially at night

  • Red to brownish-grey patches, especially on the hands, feet, ankles, wrists, neck, upper chest, eyelids, inside the bend of the elbows and knees, and, in infants, the face and scalp

  • Small, raised bumps, which may leak fluid and crust over when scratched

  • Thickened, cracked, dry, scaly skin

  • Raw, sensitive, swollen skin from scratching

Dry skin, scratching, bacteria and viruses, stress, sweat, wool, dust, pollen, smoke and air pollution, eggs and milk among many other things aggravate eczema. Eczema is related to allergies, but absence of allergens does not improve eczema. In fact, things that trap dust such as pillows and carpets can exacerbate the condition.

While the exact cause of eczema is unknown, it is likely a combination of factors such as dry skin, genetic variations, bacteria and environmental conditions.

Complications that arise from eczema include asthma and hay fever, chronic itchy and scaly skin, skin infections, eye problems, sleep and behavioural problems.

Whilst there is no cure for eczema, there are available treatments that control its symptoms. Corticosteroids, antibiotics, and creams that help repair the skin in addition to oral or injected medications.

As well as medication, there are effective therapies that include wet dressings, which is an effective, intensive treatment for severe atopic dermatitis involves wrapping the affected area with topical corticosteroids and wet bandages. This is usually carried out at a hospital due to its intensive nature. Light therapy (or phototherapy) involves exposing the skin to controlled amount of light is another form of therapy.

There are measures eczema sufferers can take to ensure lower occurrences of flare-ups. Identifying triggers that worsen the inflammation. Taking shorter baths or showers using warm instead of hot water. Use only gentle or neutral soaps. Avoiding deodorants and antibacterial hand washers. Drying off with a patting motion and moisturising at least twice a day with baby oil while the skin is still moist.

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