Eczema is a chronic skin disorder. It typically presents as a dry skin condition which is very itchy. The dry skin has little oil and leaves the skin without any surface protection- making it prone to infections.
Eczema is not a continuous disorder. It comes and goes. The flare ups are often triggered by environment changes such as the weather, foods, drugs etc.
The condition is not infectious or contagious. There is no cure for the condition but there are ways to decrease the symptoms.
Eczema essentially means dry skin which is itchy. Individuals who are more prone to eczema are ones who are genetically predisposed. Once these individuals come into contact with any chemical, drug, plant or environmental condition, eczema can occur.
In the majority of cases, individuals who suffer from eczema also suffer from other allergic disorders like allergic rhinitis or asthma.
A strong family history of allergy is generally available in these individuals.
Eczema is not a rare disorder. Statistics reveal that close to 15-20 million individuals have some form of eczema. At least one quarter of these are children under the age of 12.
In the majority of children, the eczema will spontaneously subside by the age of 16. In others, eczema is a life long illness.
There is no cure for eczema and thus prevention is the best treatment. The preventive measures include:
- Apply an oil based moisturizer daily and frequently on the skin. This is one of the most important treatments for dry itchy skin
- Avoid very hot baths. Hot water and frequent showers can wash off the oils from the skin and lead to worsening of eczema
- Keep the house humid: dry homes especially in the winter months can worsen eczema. Thus it is essential to control the dryness by humidification
- Sleep in a cool room.
- Exercise. In many individuals eczema flare ups occur when there is profuse sweating after exercise. Have showers after exercise and change into clean clothes
- Avoid use of excessive chemicals on the body. There are many deodorants, lotions, creams and ointments which contain an unknown number of chemicals. One should limit exposure to these cosmetic products and stick to just one single brand
- While stress does not directly cause eczema, it is known to worsen the episodes. Thus keep both physical and emotional stress to low levels
- Avoid excess scratching of the skin. This will lead to breakdown of the skin and infections.
- Wear clothing fabric which is not irritating to the skin. Cotton is the preferred fabric
- When showering use bland soaps and shampoos. Excessive use of fragrant soaps and shampoos only worsens the eczema.
- For pet lovers, eczema is worsened by animal hair. It is best to rid of the animals if someone has chronic eczema
- Drugs: There are many drugs which can cause allergies and eczema and one should avoid them
- Foods: there is a link between some foods, esp. sea foods, nuts, milk and nutrients which can exacerbate the eczema. Avoidance of these foods is highly recommended.
- Avoid smoking or exposure to second hand smoke.
- Avoid environments which exposure you to excessive sand, dust and fumes.
- All individuals who are diabetic or on chemotherapy drugs should always be concerned if the eczema getting worse. If the skin gets red, is painful and breaks open, it is important to go and see a physician
The aim of treating eczema is to heal the skin, decrease the symptoms, prevent further skin damage and limit/prevent flare ups.
Treatment may vary depending on age, symptoms, and general health. Developing skin care routines, identifying factors that trigger flares, and avoiding these triggers is a large part of preventive medicine.