What is eczema?
Eczema is a group of chronic skin conditions that cause dry, itchy, and scaly patches. There are many factors to eczema, and researchers still don’t know all the reasons why you might develop it. It is very common and affects more than 31 million Americans.
There are seven types of eczema. These include:
Symptoms of eczema
Symptoms of eczema can be different for everyone. As you age, the area with eczema might change. Adults usually have eczema on the hands, feet, arms, backs of knees, and elbows. Children usually develop eczema on the face, knees, and outside of elbows.
Some common symptoms of eczema include:
- Dry, scaly patches
- Small bumps that open and weep
- Thick skin
Eczema may appear red on lighter skin tones and brown, gray, or purple on darker skin tones.
Causes of eczema
Researchers still aren’t sure about the exact cause of eczema, but it is thought to be from genetic variations and issues with the immune system.
Some people with eczema have genetic changes that cause a problem with a protein in the skin called filaggrin. Without enough of this protein, the skin barrier doesn’t work properly and leads to eczema.
Some people have a problem with the immune system. Sometimes, irritants or allergens inside or outside of the body switch on the immune system. This creates inflammation and causes common eczema symptoms.
Who can get eczema
Eczema is most common in babies and young children. People with chronic conditions like allergies or asthma, or who have family members with eczema, are more likely to develop eczema themselves. Some types of eczema can be related to other diseases like celiac disease.
Diagnosis for eczema
There are many types of eczema that can look like other skin conditions. Your doctor will need to take your personal and medical history and examine your skin. They will check if you have asthma, allergies, or a history of dermatitis. They will also ask if anyone in your family has these conditions.
You may also need to have a patch test. This involves putting small amounts of allergens onto the skin and checking for allergies.
Treatments for eczema
There is no cure for eczema, and eczema treatment can be complex. There are many types of eczema that all might need a different treatment. However, there may be some self-care and home care practices that you can do to manage your skin and your symptoms.
You may be able to manage your symptoms with over-the-counter eczema treatments. These may include:
- Pain relievers
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
- Topical hydrocortisone
- Medicated shampoos
Your doctor may prescribe other medications to help your symptoms and your immune system. These may include:
- Topical steroids and steroid pills
- Topical calcineurin inhibitors
- Topical PDE4 inhibitors
- Biologic drugs
- Systemic immunosuppressants
Home care and remedies
A significant part of eczema treatment is caring for the skin at home and avoiding allergens and triggers. It is important to establish a regular bathing and moisturizing routine to maintain skin health.
To manage your eczema at home you, you can:
- Bathe in lukewarm water
- Use a gentle, unscented, fragrance-free cleanser
- Gently pat the skin dry without rubbing
- Apply any topical medications to the area
- Apply a liberal amount of moisturizer all over your body within 3 minutes of your shower
- Apply a dressing or wet wrap
- Avoid scratching the skin
- Avoid harsh soaps, lotions, or detergents
You may find that a bath soothes the skin. Some bath treatments that might help include soaking in a full tub of lukewarm water with one of the following:
- ¼ cup of baking soda to relieve itching
- ½ cup regular bleach to help skin infections
- 1 cup table salt to relieve stinging
Managing stress is also an important piece of your eczema treatment.
Some complementary therapies may also help eczema. These include:
- Coconut oil as a moisturizer
- Sunflower oil as a moisturizer
- Topical vitamin B12
- Omega-3 fatty acids
- Meditation and mindfulness
- Tai chi
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Possible complications and side effects
You can treat and manage your eczema, but you may encounter some complications. These may include:
The immunosuppressants you may use to treat your eczema can have potential side effects. Some side effects include:
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Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Eczema.”
National Eczema Association: “Bathing, Moisturizing and Wet Wraps.”
National Eczema Association: “Complementary and Alternative Treatments.”
National Eczema Association: “Eczema Treatment.”
National Eczema Association: “Over the Counter.”
National Eczema Association: “An Overview of the Different Types of Eczema.”
National Eczema Association: “Prescription Oral.”
The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology: “Filaggrin in atopic dermatitis.”
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