What is Eczema?
Eczema is a common skin disorder, and is a term used for any type of dermatitis or "itchy rash". Eczema is recognised by the appearance of dry, red, itchy skin that may appear anywhere on the body. The skin may blister or crack and will tend to be very itchy, leading some people to scratch until they bleed. The experience of eczema will depend on the individual as it is different for everyone. Eczema will vary from mild to severe cases.
People with eczema tend to have an increased risk of developing allergic conditions such as asthma or hay fever.
The most common types of eczema include:
Scratching tends to worsen eczema, as it leads to increased inflammation which triggers an itch-scratch cycle. There is no specific cure for eczema although treatment aids management of the condition.
What are the Symptoms of Eczema?
There are a variety of symptoms of eczema. Sufferers may have one or more of the following:
What Causes Eczema?
There are a number of causes of eczema. Eczema runs in families so if your parents have sensitive skin, you are more likely to develop eczema. Your mother's age at the time of birth is a factor too, with children born to older women more likely to develop eczema than otherwise. An immune system that is over-active can also cause an issue, as can defects in the skin barrier that allow moisture out and germs in.
In addition, there are certain factors that trigger eczema. A trigger does cause eczema, but can cause it to flare up, or make it worse. The most common triggers are substances that irritate the skin. For instance, in many people with eczema, wool or man-made fibres that come into contact with the skin can trigger a flare up.
It is thought that certain foods can cause eczema too, including additives, foods that commonly cause allergy such as shellfish and peanuts, sugar, fried food and margarine and non-essential fats.
Who is Affected by Eczema?
Anyone can be affected by eczema, most people will first have eczema as babies or children, and although symptoms may lessen over time, eczema may continue long into adulthood. A large percentage of children who develop severe eczema will also have issues with asthma or other allergies.
Treatments for Eczema
While there is currently no cure for eczema, there are a range of natural and conventional treatments available that can alleviate discomfort. The natural treatments you can try, include:
1. Sunlight increases production of vitamin D and boosts immunity.
2. Omega-3 fats. Some suggest that 1,000 mg daily intake of omega-3 rich foods can help reduce inflammation and heal the skin.
3. Probiotic. 25-100 billion organisms taken daily through a probiotic supplement will provide friendly bacteria to assist with gut health and immunity.
4. Lavender essential oil mixed with coconut oil can relieve itching and reduce eczema. Geranium is also recommended.
5. Vitamin A promotes skin health, and can be found in orange and yellow vegetables.
6. Vitamin E is known to assist with wound healing.
7. Vitamin D3 has antimicrobial properties and therefore is a handy boost for the immune system.
8. Diet. It is thought that foods high in essential fatty acids – such as wild-caught fish, flaxseed oil, pumpkin or chia seeds promote wound healing. High fibre foods can reduce constipation meaning the skin doesn't have to expel as many toxins, so a diet high in vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and coconut etc. will benefit the eczema sufferer.
Conventional treatments for eczema include:
9. Emollients or moisturising treatments that should be applied daily to dry skin, especially after a shower or bath, and reducing the amount of time you spend in hot or warm water.
10. Topical corticosteroids, such as steroids, can be used to reduce swelling, redness and itching during flare-ups.
11. Self-care techniques, such as using a medicated or mild soap that doesn't dry the skin out, while reducing scratching and avoiding anything that triggers the eczema.
12. Drugs to control the immune system
13. Antibiotics for infections
14. Ultraviolet light is sometimes combined with a drug to alleviate symptoms.
15. Short, warm showers. Don't take very hot or very long showers or baths. They can dry out your skin.
16. Hydro-cortisone creams are available over-the-counter, but if you need something for severe eczema, you will need to see a doctor.
17. Antihistamines are available over the counter in chemists and supermarkets.
18. Stress management
Seek medical advice if over the counter treatments aren't working after a few weeks.