Ask the general public in Short Hills what eczema is and you may get some surprising answers which are very different from the definition you’ll receive when you ask a dermatologist. For many years, the average individual has classified any type of skin condition as eczema and for a large part; many different skin conditions are considered a type of eczema. Even some common conditions such as diaper rash or an outbreak of poison ivy can be variants of eczema. This is because the most general definition of eczema is a skin condition caused by inflammation. Even though it is not specifically caused by an allergy, atopic dermatitis is the most common type of eczema. Individuals who have eczema are more likely to develop other types of allergic conditions such as asthma. Eczema causes the skin to become dry, itchy and red. In some cases, it becomes cracked or leathery and it can appear on any part of the body causing great discomfort.
What causes Eczema?
Eczema appears to be hereditary in nature as it tends to run in families. Extra sensitive skin is basically part of an overactive immune system which can contribute to eczema. Dermatologists also consider defects in the skin barrier as a contributing factor to developing eczema as these types of defects can allow too much moisture to escape through the skin and also allow germs in. Common triggers which can bring on an episode of eczema include stress, heat, dry climates, dry skin, cold weather sweat and contact with known irritants such as soaps and fabrics.
Treating eczema involves managing the symptoms by trying to prevent inflammation, itching and preventing the condition from worsening. Treatment options may be a combination of lifestyle changes and medications. What type of treatment is the most beneficial will be determined by the person’s health status, their age and the severity of the eczema. There are several different ointments and creams that are commonly used to keep the skin hydrated. Corticosteroid creams are oftentimes prescribed to help reduce the inflammation of the skin. There are mild, medium and high potency creams which can be used depending on how severe the symptoms the individual is experiencing. For those who suffer from intense itching antihistamines may be used. When an individual has an outbreak of eczema, oral corticosteroids may also be used. These medications can have adverse side effects and are only used in the most severe cases on a temporary basis.
There are also two topical mediations in the form of creams that the FDA has approved to be used to treat eczema: pimecrolimus and tacrolimus. These are forms of immune suppressant pharmaceuticals which inhibit calcineurin but they are only available for use by those over 2 years of age. These are not suggested for long time use, but can be beneficial for short term relief when the condition does not respond to other forms of treatment.
Can I prevent eczema?
Eczema cannot be cured completely but there are some steps which can be taken to help manage symptoms and reduce the severity and frequency of outbreaks. Bathing can be one of the biggest contributors to an outbreak of eczema. Avoid taking very hot baths but rather take warm baths and use a mild soap. Also avoid over bathing and always apply moisturizer to the skin after you bathe. Be cautious about exposure to some of the known irritants such as certain types of soaps, lotions, perfumes, jewelry, detergents or various environmental irritants. Also remember to avoid any foods that may cause an allergic reaction. Wear loose fitting clothes that are made of cotton to avoid irritating the skin. If you are engaging in an activity that requires putting the hands in water, wear protective gloves.
Heat can lead to sweating which can irritate the skin and make the itching worse so avoid activities which will cause a lot of sweating; and sleep with the thermostat set so that the house remains cool. Use various means to relieve or manage stress which can be a trigger. And practice good skin hygiene when there are no symptoms present.