Eczema (or atopic dermatitis)
What is eczema?
Eczema is the name for a group of conditions that cause the skin to become red, itchy and inflamed. There are several types of eczema: atopic eczema / dermatitis, contact dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, nummular eczema, seborrheic dermatitis and stasis dermatitis.
Of the different types, atopic eczema is the most common and severe. It mainly affects children but is known to continue into adulthood.
Eczema is very common and up to one in five children in the UK have some form of eczema.
The term “eczema” is often used interchangeably with ‘atopic dermatitis’. However, each type of eczema, including atopic dermatitis, has somewhat different triggers, symptoms and treatments.
Features of eczema
- Patches of skin that appear red or brownish-grey
- Cracked or scaly skin
- Itching, which can be severe, especially at night
- Small, raised bumps, which can leak fluid and crust over after being scratched
- Skin becomes raw and sensitive as a result of scratching
Though patches of eczema can occur anywhere on the body, they most often appear on hands and feet, in the front of the bend of the elbow, behind the knees, and on the ankles, wrists, face and neck.
Eczema can also affect the skin around the eyes, including your eyelids. Scratching can cause redness and swelling around the eyes.
A number of factors can make eczema worse, including stress, hard water, foods such as eggs, fish and milk, certain soaps and detergents and a dry environment.
What causes eczema?
The exact cause of eczema is not known but it is believed it arises because of a combination of genes and environmental triggers.
Environmental triggers include;
- Irritants such as soaps and detergents, wool, skin infections, dry skin, low humidity, heat, sweating or emotional stress.
- Allergens such as dust mites, pollen, moulds or foods.
Consultation with one of our Dermatologists may be helpful in identifying the triggers.
What are the treatments for eczema?
There is no cure for eczema but there is a range of treatments available to help control symptoms.
Depending on the type of eczema and severity, treatments include lifestyle changes, over-the-counter (OTC) remedies, prescription topical, oral and injectable medications, phototherapy and biologic drugs.
Prescription topical medications include corticosteroids (steroids), PDE4 inhibitors, topical calcineurin inhibitors (TCIs) and skin barrier creams. Available through your doctor, these medications are applied to the affected area of the skin to help ease redness, rash, dryness and itching.
Steroid creams such as betamethasone (better known to eczema sufferers as Betnovate) are applied once or twice a day to manage symptoms. There are different strength steroid creams available which need to be matched to the severity of a patient’s symptoms.
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