Does your skin get inflamed and cause you to itch? If so, you could be suffering from eczema. Eczema is a group name for skin conditions that are characterized by patches of skin that are itchy, inflamed, rough, and cracked. Eczema affects about 31.6% of the population in the USA so it’s a rampant condition. The condition usually develops under the age of 5 and half of the people who develop it at childhood continue to suffer from it even in adulthood while the other half outgrows it.
Symptoms of Eczema
Symptoms of eczema often manifest in flare-ups that occur for a time and then clear up. In order to identify the presence of eczema on your skin, look out for these symptoms:
- Rashes on creases of the skin such as the elbows, knees, or the nape of the neck
- Rashes covering most of the skin on the body
- Rashes that dry up the skin
- Prominent rashes on the face, neck, and around the eyes
- Rashes that are permanently itchy
- Rashes that lead to infection
- Scaly rashes
Symptoms of eczema on infants are slightly different. They include:
- Rashes on the cheeks and scalp
- Rashes form bubbles that drip liquid
- Extremely itchy rashes that interrupt sleep when they scratch them
- Skin infections caused by rubbing or scratching
For children over age 2 up to puberty, the following symptoms occur:
- Rashes behind the folds of knees and elbows
- Rashes on the neck, legs, ankles, wrists, and the crease between the buttocks
- Rashes may darken or lighten in color
- Rashes may become bumpy
- Rashes may thicken, form knots, and cause a permanent itch.
Types of Eczema
When eczema is talked about, most people mean atopic dermatitis which is the commonest type but other types also exist.
As mentioned previously, this is the common type of eczema and it usually develops in childhood. It gets milder in adulthood or even disappears completely. Apart from rashes, small bumps may appear that leak fluid when scratched. Many people with atopic dermatitis also have asthma and hay fever so doctors collectively refer to the three conditions as the atopic triad.
This type of eczema is characterized by red and irritated skin that is a reaction of coming into contact with substances. It has two subtypes: allergic contact dermatitis, which occurs when the immune system has an allergic reaction to an irritant like metal; and irritant contact dermatitis that occurs when the skin gets irritated by a chemical or other irritant substance.
This is a skin irritation on the palms and soles of feet. It is characterized by small blisters that appear on the toes, fingers, palms, and soles. These blisters may itch or hurt or the skin may crack, flake, or scale.
It is similar to atopic dermatitis and it is characterized by skin that is thick and scaly. The patches appear on the scalp, arms, soles of the feet, legs, back of the hands, back of the neck, or genitals. They can be very itchy especially when you sleep and scratching them could cause bleeding and infections.
It is different from the other types of eczema in that it forms circular coin-shaped patches on the skin. These patches may be scaly, crusted, and itchy. Nummular eczema is set off by reactions to insect bites, dry skin, or an allergic reaction to metals/chemicals. It often occurs when you already have another type of eczema.
This is a skin irritation that occurs on the lower part of the legs and is an indication of circulatory dysfunction. It happens when fluid escapes out of your veins and into the skin to cause itching, redness, swelling, and pain. Other distinctive features of this condition are swelling of the legs after walking and the development of open sores on the legs and top of the feet.
What Causes Eczema?
The exact cause of eczema is unknown but it is believed to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. People with eczema usually have a sensitive immune system, that when triggered by factors inside and outside the body, reacts by causing inflammation. The inflammation causes pain, itchiness, redness, and other symptoms associated with the different types of eczema.
Eczema is hereditary; a child is more likely to develop it if his/her parent had the condition or any other atopic condition. People with eczema have been found to have a mutating gene that is in charge of manufacturing filaggrin. Filaggrin is a protein that helps the skin maintain a healthy barrier against the elements. Eczema interferes with filaggrin so moisture can escape from the skin and bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms can enter. This is why eczema makes the skin dry and vulnerable to infections.
Some environmental triggers that cause flaring up of symptoms are:
Coming into contact with some substances can cause the skin to become itchy, red, and dry. These substances may be found in everyday things like home and body cleaning products, and natural liquids from fruits, meat, or vegetables. Common irritants include metals like nickel, fabrics like wool and polyester, soap and detergents, fragrances, antibacterial ointment like neomycin, and products with formaldehyde like disinfectants.
When it gets too hot, people with eczema get itchy and get a ‘prickly heat’ sensation especially when they sweat. This is because the dry air dries up the skin and makes eczema worse. This also happens during winter when humidity decreases in the atmosphere.
Some factors in the environment may trigger an allergic reaction and cause an eczema flare-up such as dander from cats and dogs, seasonal pollen, mold, or dust mites. This is because allergens trigger an overreaction of the immune system so your skin gets inflamed which causes irritation and itchiness.
When you’re stressed, the body produces cortisol which increases inflammation. Inflammation causes redness, swelling, itchiness, and pain which worsen eczema symptoms.
Foods to Avoid with Eczema
Many people with eczema have food allergies that trigger the flare-up of eczema symptoms. The reason for this is that eczema heightens the immune reactivity to allergens and triggers inflammation. We will look at some of the foods that are the worst culprits in worsening your symptoms:
It’s one of the worst triggers of flare-ups, especially in children. Parents should eliminate it from their kids’ diet and this also includes milk-based products. Since milk offers important nutrients, consult a doctor to provide an alternative.
Just like milk, eggs are a trigger, especially for children. Additionally, look out for foods like bread that may have eggs in them and avoid them.
Children who suffer from eczema may have a peanut allergy so it would be best for them to avoid not only peanut but other peanut products like peanut butter.
Soy allergies are also associated with eczema so vigilantly watch out for foods that contain soy in their ingredient list.
Gluten is a commonly used ingredient in a lot of foods. If gluten causes you flare-ups, go out of your way, and select foods that are labeled ‘gluten-free’.
How to Treat Eczema
There is no cure for eczema so you have to get by with solutions that reduce the severity of symptoms. Treatment options include prescription medication, over-the-counter (OTC) medication, and natural home remedies.
Prescription and OTC Drugs
They are creams, gels, or ointments that contain hydrocortisone which helps to relieve itching and inflammation.
Skin Barrier Creams
They help in locking water in the skin and repairing the damage so as to ease itching, dryness, and redness.
These drugs suppress the immune system to prevent it from overreacting and causing inflammation. Since they can cause the development of diseases like hypertension and kidney failure, they should be taken for a short time.
They treat bacterial skin infections that result from scratching and skin damage.
Especially at night, antihistamines provide a sedating effect that eases the itching and helps you get proper sleep.
Natural Home Remedies
It has antibacterial, antimicrobial, immune-boosting, and wound-healing effects on ailments. These properties prevent skin infections, soothe, and promote healing of damaged skin. Extract aloe vera gel from its leaves or shop for pure organic aloe vera gel. Apply the gel on the affected areas.
A gentle formula that provides quick relief for all types of eczema. It’s suitable for adults and young children as well.
H-Eczema Formula helps to reduce eczema outbreaks and smoothes, re-texturises, and moisturizes the skin. It effectively addresses the signs of eczema (itching, dryness) as well as helps re-moisturize the skin. We are in love with this product because it is 100% natural and doesn’t contain any chemicals or harmful additives.
H-Eczema Formula may be used for children from 2 years old.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Soaps and detergents which are alkaline, cause eczema flare-ups. This is because a drop in skin acidity levels reduces its defenses. Apple cider vinegar is acidic and it helps in balancing the skin’s acidity levels. It also fights bacteria that cause skin infections.
It is a powder or cream that is made from grounded oats. When added to lukewarm bathwater, it soothes inflamed skin, softens rough skin, and relieves itching. People allergic to gluten should, however, avoid using it.
Evening Primrose Oil
When used topically, it soothes irritated skin. When taken orally, on the other hand, it helps in treating inflammation in the body because it contains omega-6 fatty acids and gamma-linolenic acid.
It contains fatty acids that moisturize the skin and prevent flare-ups from dry skin. Virgin coconut oil fights inflammation and improves the health of the skin barrier.
Home Remedies for Babies
Avoid dressing the baby too warmly
This is to prevent sweating which causes a heat rash and makes the itching worse.
Dress the baby in mittens to prevent them from scratching their skin.
Apply a gentle moisturizer on the baby’s skin to prevent dryness.
Use warm colloidal oatmeal water to bathe the baby to help soothe their skin.
Avoid frequent baths
Bathe the baby only once or twice a week to prevent dry skin.
Use Safe Baby Wipes
Use fragrance and alcohol-free baby wipes which contain irritants that will cause flare-ups.
Eczema can be a frustrating condition but if you take the right measures, it will make your life much easier.