What is Eczema?

Eczema (pronounced as 'EK-zeh-ma') comes from two Greek words, 'ek' meaning out and 'zema' meaning boils. Basically eczema, which is also called dermatitis, is a medical condition wherein the skin swells. The discomfort and pain arising from the small blisters of the skin makes it feel as if it is boiling.
If you have eczema, watch out, water might hurt Eczema is merely a hypersensitivity reaction; it is not considered a disease and it is not contagious. The skin is simply more reactive to anything that touches it, so it easily itches. Itching will make you scratch so flare-ups will be triggered. Also, one might feel uncomfortable in the presence of water. Many people that have this condition use rubber gloves when washing dishes or doing other daily activities.
Both children and adults may contract eczema, but it usually occurs in infants. The cause of eczema is not yet known, but it often affects those having a family history of allergies. A lot of people suffering from eczema have asthma or allergic rhinitis, or have relatives who do.
According to the National Institute of Health, approximately 15 million people have eczema in the United States alone. Around 10 to 20 percent of babies have eczema, but the condition will greatly improve by the time they are 5 and 15 years old in nearly have of them. Others will continue to have the said condition for the rest of their lives.

Common Types of Eczema

There are many types of eczema, each having different symptoms and causes. The most common are the following:
  1. Atopic eczema. It has a genetic component and runs in families with a history of asthma and hay fever. Rashes usually show on the scalp, face, neck, buttocks, insides of elbows, and behind the knees.
  2. Contact dermatitis. Its two types are allergic and irritant. Allergic dermatitis, which is also known as exogenous eczema, results from the skin's reaction to allergens. Irritant dermatitis is brought about by the skin's reaction to chemicals, such as detergents. 75 percent of contact dermatitis cases are irritant in nature.
  3. Seborrhoeic dermatitis. It is also known as cradle cap. This type of eczema is common in infants, although adults may contract it too. The rash is greasy and develops on the eyebrows and scalp. Scaly red patches may sometimes appear in adjacent areas.
  4. Xerotic eczema. It results from skin that becomes so dry that it develops into eczema. The limbs and the torso are often the affected area. This condition is more common among older people.
  5. Varicose eczema. It is associated with varicose veins as its name implies. Poor circulation is also another cause. It usually occurs in the lower legs and is more commonly found in old people.
  6. Dyshidrotic Dermatitis. Also called hand eczema, this type of disease occurs only on the palms of the hands, sides of the fingers, and soles of the feet. People who have dyshidrotic dermatitis are genetically predisposed to it, and it is well known that stress is a main cause of this type of eczema.
  7. Neurodermatitis, also known as lichen simplex chronicus, is a condition which develops when nerve endings in the skin become irritated.
  8. Stasis Dermatitis. It occurs in 6-7% of those over the age 50, the risk of developing stasis dermatitis increasing with age. Poor blood flow causes fluids to build up, and the legs swell, affecting the skin, causing a rash that usually itches. Due to the effect of pregnancy on the leg vein system, women are more affected by this type of eczema.

Causes of Eczema

As mentioned above, the exact cause of eczema is not yet known, but a possible factor is an abnormal function of the immune system. It is also known to be linked to family history.
Sometimes the swelling can flare up for no reason at all, but it can also be set off by the following:
  1. Soap, shampoo, and detergent
  2. Cosmetics, clothing, and jewelry
  3. Inhaled irritants like dust mites and pollen
  4. Sweat
  5. Food allergies
  6. Dry skin
  7. Changes in hormone levels (i.e. a few days before menstruation)
  8. Weather changes
  9. Psychological stress

Symptoms of Eczema

There is no particular part of the body where eczema occurs, but it usually occurs on the face, neck, wrists, ankles and the insides of knees and elbows in children and adults. On the other hand, it typically manifests on the scalp, forehead, cheeks, neck, and legs of babies. Eczema is a possibility when you experience the following symptoms:
  1. Intense itching
  2. Dry and scaly skin
  3. Crusting, flaking, and cracking of the skin
  4. Oozing lesions and blisters
  5. Bleeding
Healed lesions may sometimes cause temporary skin discoloration, but scarring is unusual.

Eczema Diagnosis

Eczema is not easy to diagnose since it shows similarities with other skin conditions. In order to diagnose eczema, doctors first make a thorough physical examination of the skin. The patient's history will also be delved into. In particular, the doctor will ask when it first manifested and what conditions aggravate the swelling. The person will also be asked about his/her family history, current medications, and allergies.
To rule out other skin conditions, a skin biopsy is carried out. A tiny portion of the skin is removed. It is then sent to a pathology laboratory for microscopic inspection.
To find out whether the eczema is cause by an allergic reaction, the doctor may check the antibody levels and cell count of the blood. The blood may also be sent for other tests, such as the Paper Radioimmunosorbent Test (PRIST) or Radioallergosorbent Test (RAST), which measures the changes in the level of antibodies when exposed to specific types of allegens.
Skin patch testing may also be done in order to try to pinpoint what trigger/s the condition. Suspected irritants are stuck to adhesive patches and applied to the skin. As a control, another patch that has nothing is also applied. The patches are removed after a day or two. If the skin appears red and swollen under the patches containing substances, the result is positive.

Psychological Effects of Eczema

People with eczema, especially those with visible marks, are generally self-conscious and introverted. They are physically fit and can act normally, but they often have low self-esteem. Eczema sufferers are often embarrassed to scratch their skin in public, so they do it in privacy. Some people also choose to hide the red patches using articles of clothing, such as hats, scarves, and gloves. This temporary solution, instead of helping, can only aggravate eczema because of sweating and constant rubbing.

Prevention of Eczema Flare-ups

By following a few simple precautions, eczema outbreaks can usually be averted. A few suggestions to help lessen the frequency and severity of the inflammation are as follows:
  1. Avoid having dry skin. Moisturize it often using a fragrance-free moisturizer like petroleum jelly.
  2. Avoid sudden temperature and humidity changes.
  3. Avoid perspiring.
  4. Don't expose your skin too much to water. Take short baths with warm "not hot" water. Gently pat your skin dry to avoid further irritation. The evaporation of water from skin that has not been immediately wiped dry causes it to lose its moisture.
  5. Reduce stress. Try to relax and unwind more often.
  6. Avoid materials that may scratch your skin like wool. Cotton is your best bet.
  7. Do not use harsh toiletries and solvents.
  8. Keep away from environmental factors that may prompt allergies (i.e. animal hair, pollen, dust mites, and molds).
  9. If you have food allergies, avoid eating certain types of food. Some people reported eczema reduction after consuming intense energy fruits like acai berry.