What is Eczema?
Eczema (also known as dermatitis) is an inflammation of the skin causing the skin to become red, dry and itchy. As with many conditions the severity varies from person to person. Some people experience a mildly itchy rash on a small part of the body and consider it a mild irritation. For more severe cases there may be weeping, crusting and bleeding.
Eczema affects people of all ages but is primarily seen in children. Those who “grow out” of their eczema during early childhood may see it recur again in later life. It affects both males and females equally. You are more likely to develop eczema if there is a family history of eczema, asthma or hayfever (allergic rhinitis). In the UK, one in five children and one in twelve adults have eczema.1
What does Eczema look like?
Eczema skin is usually dry and scaly. Due to the itchiness of eczema and the excessive scratching, scratch marks and broken skin are not uncommon. Continuous scratching will cause the skin to thicken and broken skin may lead to a skin infection.
A baby developing eczema between the ages of 2 – 4 months usually has inflammation of the skin with oozing and crusting. For a child not developing eczema until around 2 years of age the oozing and crusting is less common as the rash is usually dryer and scaly.
Where does Eczema appear?
Eczema can develop on any part of the body. In children it is most common on the face and scalp and in the skin folds where the skin is more prone to being warm and moist.
Adults will commonly develop eczema on their hands and this may be due to a substance they are continually exposed to that they have become sensitive to.
Can I catch Eczema?
Eczema may look unsightly, it may weep and ooze, but it is not contagious. You cannot catch eczema by touching, looking at or being near someone with eczema.
Eczema may be passed down the family line from generation to generation but it cannot be passed from person to person by contact or droplet transfer.
What are the symptoms of Eczema?
The primary eczema symptoms are:
- cracked or broken
It’s common to get an itchy rash in the skin creases of your knees or elbows. If your eczema becomes itchy, try not to scratch it. Scratching can damage and break your skin, which can lead to an infection.
If you have any of these symptoms or you are worried about them, it is always best to see your GP for advice.
Allergy and Eczema
Flare ups of eczema are often caused by allergy. Finding what you are allergic to and removing it from your life will help to control your eczema. Unfortunately this is not always an easy task.
Common allergies causing eczema flare ups are pollens, some foods, animal dander (Dander is a term for a material shed from the body of various animals, similar to dandruff), chemicals and dust mites. Stress and climate changes are also common triggers of eczema. It is impossible to say what causes each person’s eczema without determining their allergies and assessing their environment. However if the culprit can be determined and removed your eczema will be less severe or may even disappear totally.
Treating and controlling eczema is not always as easy as you would expect and for those with severe eczema it can be a tricky task.
The most important aspect of treating eczema is to keep the skin well moisturised. Dry skin is a major problem for people with eczema so it is important to avoid anything that will dry the skin like soaps, shower gels, bubble baths and perfumes. Applying a moisturiser (emollient) regularly is also very important.
Scratching can make your eczema worse and make your skin feel more itchy.
Although there isn’t a cure for eczema, there are a range of medicines available from your GP or pharmacist to help control your symptoms. Always ask your GP for advice and read the patient information leaflet that comes with your medicine.
Keeping a diary about your eczema symptoms may help you spot any triggers that may make your eczema worse.