Eczema 101: What is Eczema? What causes it and how do you treat it?
What is Eczema?
Eczema or atopic dermatitis is a common skin condition that may affect 30 million Americans. People with eczema have itchy, red rash commonly seen on the face, behind the knees, and flexor surface of the elbow. However, the rash can also be found on the trunk, hands, neck, and scalp. One troubling aspect of this rash is that it can be very itchy. The itch may be so intense that patient would keep on scratching till it bleeds, which makes rash even worse. The so called itch-scratch cycle is very difficult to stop. People with eczema are usually diagnosed when they are kids and babies. As mentioned before, the itchy symptom can be so intense that would disrupt kids’ sleep cycle, eating habits, and even normal growth pattern. The good news is that the disease tends to improve as kids grew into adults.
What Causes Eczema?
Like many chronic disease, the exact cause of eczema is unknown. Current research attributes the cause to abnormal immune system and impaired skin barrier. Just as the name suggests, skin barrier is the outer most layer of our skin that separates “inside” from “outside.” Many eczema patients have imperfect barrier that allows penetration of allergens and irritants entering our skin, which can trigger the activation of immune system that can make eczema worse.
How to Treat Eczema?
There are four general principles that are often cited by physicians and dermatologists when they treat patients with eczema. First, it is important to rebuild or maintain a healthy and intact skin barrier. Eczema patients are instructed to apply good moisturizers and avoid lotions and creams that have harsh irritants or fragrance. Second, when there is a flare of eczema, it is important to add anti-inflammatory medicines to suppress the inflammation. Topical steroids, Elidel, or Protopics are commonly prescribed medicine to achieve this goal. Third, it is also important to prevent infection. One common practice that showed good efficacy is taking bleach bath. Lastly, it is important to control itch. Patients with eczema have severe itch, that compels many to scratch and itch at the skin. Those scratching action, break down the skin barrier, introduce skin infection and triggers inflammation. Eczema is a chronic skin condition, and patients need to seek medical advice from dermatologists and other healthcare providers.