Eczema - Atopic Dermatitis
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis (or inflammation of the skin), is a chronic skin condition commonly characterized by dry, red, swollen, patches of skin that itch relentlessly. For many individuals who have eczema, frequent scratching of the affected area only makes the condition more bothersome and uncomfortable. Repeated scratching also may cause the skin to become red or swollen, which can then cause the area to crack, ooze clear liquid and become crusty. Eczema occurs most often in the folds of the elbows or behind the knees, but it can appear anywhere on the surface of the body. In children, eczema often occurs on the scalp and face as well. An eczema outbreak can last from a few days to a few weeks or more. And whereas some individuals experience a single outbreak, many experience frequent flare-ups, usually as a result of exposure to one or more triggers or irritants.
The itching and scratching caused by eczema can lead to breaks or cracks in the skin. Often, bacteria can infect the open skin wounds and cause an infection. These skin infections, also called cellulitis, can cause the skin to appear red and swollen and may be warm to the touch. These skin infections can spread to other areas of the body, therefore, it is important to contact a doctor if cellulitis is suspected.
What causes it?
Medical researchers believe that eczema may be an abnormal response of the immune system to various environmental or emotional triggers. When the body comes into contact with one or more of these triggers, the immune system senses the trigger and reacts to dispel it. The immune system's reaction is thought to be the cause of the symptoms that are associated with eczema outbreaks.
Triggers for eczema can include skin irritants, such as chemicals; emotional stress; allergies, for example, to food and airborne allergens; and extreme changes in temperature. Paint thinners and pesticides, alcohol-containing products, astringents, and fragrances are chemicals that can trigger eczema in some individuals. Although paint thinners and pesticides can be avoided fairly easily, it is harder to avoid alcohol, astringents, and fragrances, which are ingredients in most cosmetics and household cleaners. If you believe any of these types of products contribute to your eczema, it is a good idea to check the ingredient list on the label before purchasing one of these products.
Heightened emotional states, for example, feelings of extreme anxiety, anger, or aggression, can also trigger eczema outbreaks. Understanding and trying to avoid situations that lead to these stresses may be beneficial in preventing eczema outbreaks. Approaches to avoiding stress include getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly, and avoiding alcohol or illegal drugs.
Certain foods, for example, milk, eggs, soy, or peanuts, trigger eczema outbreaks for some individuals. Reading the ingredient list before purchasing food products that you suspect may contain ingredients you are allergic to is a wise step to take.
Airborne allergens such as pollens, mould spores, and animal dander as well as extreme changes in temperature can also lead to an outbreak of eczema for some individuals. During the heat of summer, remaining indoors where air conditioning is available is a good preventive measure. In the winter months, using a humidifier to add moisture to the air inside your home may help prevent dry skin, thus preventing an eczema outbreak.