If you or a loved one suffers from eczema, you are no stranger to the discomfort it brings. Eczema describes skin rashes that occur due to allergies or familial skin conditions. Over 10 to 20 percent of babies and 3 percent of older children and adults suffer from eczema. It often goes along with other conditions such as asthma, hay fever, and other allergies. Symptoms flare and clear up with treatment, but usually persist throughout life.
Symptoms of Eczema
The symptoms of eczema are pretty straightforward, but can be mistaken for other conditions. The rash that occurs may appear to be sunburn, an allergic reaction to something you have put on your skin, or a reaction to food or medicine. An eczema rash tends to look different each time it flares and varies based on its location on your body. The rash is usually always dry and the skin tends to be very sensitive. The associated itching tends to be very severe. Some people scratch to the point of bleeding which can worsen the condition. If you experience any of the following symptoms, see your doctor for a correct diagnosis:
Skin that is dry and sensitive
Inflammation and redness of the skin
Rash that tends to recur
Skin that appears scaly, rough, and leather-like
Bleeding skin after itching
Discolored areas on the skin
Areas that ooze and crust over
What Causes Eczema?
The exact cause for eczema is still unknown, but there are several factors that contribute to the condition. Here is a comprehensive list:
Allergies – You will notice eczema flares when you are exposed to allergy triggers such as pets, dust mites, mold, and outside pollens.
Topical Irritants – You may be sensitive to things you commonly use such as shampoo, laundry detergent, lotions, and household cleaners. If you are allergic to certain foods, contact with bare skin when cooking can trigger a flare.
Stress – If you have eczema, excessive emotional or physical stress can trigger a flare.
Hormonal Changes – Women may notice flares with monthly cycles, pregnancy, and during menopause.
Bacteria or Fungal Infections – Certain fungi or bacteria that normally live on the skin may trigger flares.
Food – You may not experience anything internal if you are allergic to a food, but an eczema reaction when eating certain foods may mean you have a food allergy. This often happens with shellfish, nuts, berries, and citrus foods. Eggs, wheat, and dairy can also be eczema triggers.
Temperature Changes – Some sufferers notice flares in extreme cold or extreme heat. Sweating can also trigger the rash, along with changes in humidity.
<pWhat Are The Risk Factors?
Researchers have found that people with eczema have a few common risk factors, which include:
Family history of eczema
Family or personal history of allergies and asthma
Location i.e. High pollution or high allergy areas (farms, big cities, etc.)
Female gender. Less common in males.
How Is Eczema Diagnosed?
There is no actual lab test to diagnose eczema. A dermatologist can do skin scrapings to check for bacterial or fungal causes and rule those out. Once any other cause is ruled out, a recurring rash is usually diagnosed as eczema after being watched over a period of time. The doctor can also take a thorough history of allergies and asthma, which usually occur with eczema.
How Is Eczema Treated?
If you have symptoms of eczema, it is important to see your doctor for proper diagnosis and discuss ways to treat it. While minor cases may be successfully treated with home remedies, some of the more severe cases only respond to medical treatments, including:
Your doctor may prescribe a steroid cream first and/or a cream that reduces the immune response in your skin i.e. tacrolimus (Protopic) or pimecrolimus (Elidel). You may also be put on antibiotics or antifungals if an infection is suspected to be the cause. Your doctor may also have you try oral antihistamines to stop the itching. If your case is severe enough, you may be given a steroid injection in the doctor’s office.
Your doctor may recommend other treatments to help your skin heal, such as skin dressings and bandages, light therapies with UV light, stress reduction techniques, and possibly counseling for stress.
For babies, your child’s pediatrician may recommend changing soaps, keeping your baby out of excessive heat or cold, and using lotions. In severe cases, mild steroids may be used.
Home Remedies For Eczema
Many sufferers find that gaining control of eczema starts with lifestyle changes. Just giving the house a good dusting, getting rid of stress, and avoiding allergens can be a big help. Other tips to help control eczema include:
Take cool showers
Apply creams before drying
Wear loose clothing that is non-irritating, avoid wool
Don’t scratch if at all possible
Avoid exercise to the point of perspiration
With your doctor’s permission, try an over-the-counter anti-itch cream or Benadryl
Use mild soaps, detergents, shampoos, and household cleaners
Eat a healthy balanced diet and avoid food triggers (nuts, eggs, shellfish, dairy, etc.)
Alternative Medicine For Eczema
Certain alternative medical therapies have been very promising for eczema sufferers. It’s important to discuss any therapy with your doctor so that he/she can monitor you for any side effects. Alternative therapies include:
Vitamin Therapy – Some studies have shown that increasing your intake of vitamin D and using vitamin B12 topically can help heal the skin and reduce immune system reactions.
Herbs – Certain herbs have powerful anti-inflammatory properties and can help relieve eczema. Sunflower oil has been shown to be helpful, tea tree oil, and evening primrose.
Hypnosis – Hypnosis can help to relieve the stress which can contribute to eczema.
Acupuncture – Acupuncture placed on the right meridians may help reduce itching and nerve irritation. It may also help balance to the immune system and reduce flares.
Probiotics – Probiotics may help to improve skin health, by increasing healthy bacteria in the gut. This can help strengthen the immune system and reduces sensitivities.
Preventing Eczema Flares
Keep your skin clean and dry
Try keeping wood floors with no carpet in your home
Keep your pets clean (dander contains mites that can cause eczema)
Keep your skin moisturized
Wear only 100% cotton clothing
Avoid allergy or asthma triggers
Stay out of extreme heat or cold
Treat any allergies or asthma promptly
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