if your skin itches and turns red from time to time, you might have eczema. This skin condition is very common in children, but adults can get it too.
Eczema is sometimes called atopic dermatitis, which is the most common form. “Atopic” refers to an allergy. People with eczema often have allergies or asthma along with itchy, red skin.
Eczema comes in a few other forms, too. Each eczema type has its own set of symptoms and triggers.
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Although eczema can occur at any time of life, it usually develops in a child’s first year. Most children have a substantial improvement in their eczema by their mid-teens but, in some, severe eczema persists into adulthood.
Eczema is not contagious – you cannot get eczema from, or give it to, another person. However, skin affected by eczema may be more vulnerable to infections such as warts, cold sores, and athlete’s foot.
Eczema is a form or dermatitis that tends to develop in people that also have allergies such as asthma and hay fever.
Potential causes of eczema are:
- Factors that cause the skin to become dry, and more vulnerable to irritants or infection
- Genetic factors – eczema runs in families
- Immune system dysfunction causing an unwanted inflammatory response in the skin.
Certain substances or conditions called trigger factors can cause eczema to flare-up:
- 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 your doctor may be helpful in identifying the triggers.
Signs and symptoms
Eczema usually starts on the face followed by the hands and feet. Older children tend to be affected in the elbow and knee creases, neck, wrists, ankles, and feet. The hands and feet tend to be the most commonly affected areas in adults.
The classic symptoms of eczema are:
- Itching. This is the worst aspect because it can be upsetting for a young child with eczema. It also makes the child scratch causing further rawness of the skin and possible infections to develop.
- Redness caused by extra blood flowing through the blood vessels in the skin in the affected area.
- A grainy appearance to the skin, caused by tiny fluid-filled blisters just under the skin called “vesicles.”
- Weeping when the blisters burst, either by themselves or because of scratching, and the fluid oozes on to the surface of the skin.
- Crusts or scabs that form when the fluid dries.
- Children with eczema often have dry, scaly skin. This may be the result of the eczema or it may also be the natural skin type of the family. Dry skin can be a predisposing factor to developing eczema.
- Pale patches of skin may appear because eczema can disturb the production of pigment, which controls skin colour. The effect does fade and disappear.
- Areas of rough, leathery, thicker skin as a result of scratching.
The main goal of treatment is to eliminate itching, which is uncomfortable and causes or worsens the other symptoms. In some very mild cases eczema can be managed by:
- Avoiding likely sources of irritation (triggers)
- Using emollients such as special bath oils and moisturizers.
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