Atopic dermatitis, commonly known as eczema, affects around 30 percent of the U.S. population. There is no clear indication that it is a gender-sensitive disease, meaning an almost equal number of males and females are affected. Until recently, there was no single test that could diagnose eczema.
Over the past century, there has been a lot of speculation about the origin and causes of eczema. Allergic reactions are the most prominent speculatory theory; however, allergic reactions causing eczema remains difficult to prove. It is also known that allergies are the least likely factor that can cause the disease.
In the past decade, several studies have documented defects in skin function as a likely cause of eczema. In addition, interest in pruritus (itching), has grown over the years because of its association with inflammation.
Asthma can also play a role. Early studies of asthma show that it causes cells to degenerate, which led further to clinical findings supporting asthma as a cause of eczema.
What is Eczema?
Eczema is a rash characterized by itch and skin inflammation. The itch is so severe that preventing yourself from scratching is nearly impossible. Scratching causes irritation, which leads to wounds and can become infected. Eczema usually begins in infancy and continues into childhood. Medication can help it go away, yet eczema can recur during adulthood. It is not contagious, but it is widely believed to be genetic.
Types of Eczema
There are several types of eczema, but we will only focus on the most common ones.
- Contact eczema – only occurs when the skin comes in contact with a substance that is allergenic.
- Nummular eczema –where circular scaling is observed in the skin and looks crusty.
- Dyshidrotic eczema – normally occurs on the palms and soles of the feet. It is usually misdiagnosed as blisters.
- Allergic contact eczema – a skin reaction in which the skin comes into contact with a non-allergic substance, yet the skin’s immune system recognizes it as a foreign object and reacts with a rash.
- Neurodermatitis – where the itch is concentrated on areas like the head, lower legs, forearms, and wrists.
- Stasis dermatitis – inflammation occurs on the lower legs. This is commonly associated with circulatory problems.
- Seborrheic eczema – characterized by oily yellow patches on the scalp and face.
Triggers of Eczema
Though eczema has a genetic component, there are environmental factors that trigger the disease. The most common of which are the following:
- Irritants – substances commonly found in synthetic materials or chemicals such as soaps, detergents, colognes, and disinfectants. These can also be found in fruits, meats, juices, seafood, and even vegetables.
- Allergens – substances that cause allergies. This includes dust, pet hair, flower pollens, molds, and mites.
- Microbes – also known as bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
- Stress – mental and emotional stress can trigger eczema. This usually occurs during adolescence when hormonal changes are experienced by patients.
Cures for Eczema
Eczema has no known single, permanent cure. Many medications inhibit factors that trigger the disease. Patients must follow skin regimens to reduce inflammation and prevent triggers.
- Regular lukewarm baths – this is best done with solutions like sunflower seed oil or virgin coconut oil. The oil penetrates and moisturizes the skin, which helps prevent drying. Cold or hot water is not advisable as it dries the skin.
- Moisturizer – creams and ointments lock in moisture and help the skin maintain elasticity. It is best used within three minutes after bathing. Moisturizers must be used consistently and be hypo-allergenic.
- Clothing – soft fabrics are highly recommended as they are not abrasive. They do not cause friction and provide breathing space for the skin.
Eczema can happen to anyone. A person suffering from eczema typically avoids several activities that may trigger the disease, such as swimming and sports, and going to areas with extreme weather conditions. There are many remedies to help fight these triggers and enjoy the many opportunities life has to offer. It is imperative that you speak to a physician to fully understand your case.