Everything You Need to Know About Eczema
Everything You Need to Know About Eczema
This content has been reviewed and approved for quality and accuracy by James O'Loan (GPhC: 2084549)
If you have dry skin that always seems to happen in the same area and drives you up the wall with that itchy, scratchy feeling, then you could have eczema.
But what is eczema, and what makes this condition different from just regular patches of dry skin?
Today, we’re going to find out more about eczema, what it is, and what it means for your skin.
What is eczema?
Eczema is a condition which causes patches or wider areas of dry, itchy, irritated skin.
It’s really common, especially in children, so you probably know a few people who have eczema if you don’t have it yourself.
Eczema is a chronic condition, which means that it’s a long-term thing that won’t just go away overnight and will sometimes get better or worse.
There are many different types of eczema, but the most common type is atopic eczema, which is also known as atopic dermatitis.
Although we’ll be focusing on atopic eczema today, there are lots of handy resources online which can tell you more about the other, less common types of eczema in more detail if you want to know more about them.
What are the symptoms of eczema?
Atopic eczema won’t always show symptoms, sometimes people who suffer with eczema will go for long periods of time without any dry skin at all but will then experience ‘flare ups.’
These flare ups usually happen when you come into contact with an irritant and your skin reacts by drying out and becoming infuriatingly itchy.
Some of the most common symptoms of eczema include:
- Dry skin
- Cracked skin
What does eczema look like?
Eczema isn’t always the prettiest condition, as it can make your skin look dry, red, cracked, and sore.
We’ve found a picture of an eczema flare up, so if you’re a little squeamish about dry skin conditions, look away, scroll down as quickly as you can and think of cute kittens.
Can eczema spread?
Eczema isn’t contagious and can’t spread from person to person, however, some people may only discover that they have eczema as they grow older.
Some people only experience eczema as an adult but if this happens to you it doesn’t mean that you’ve caught eczema from someone else, it simply means that your eczema has only chosen to flare up now.
Lucky you. On the other hand, eczema is very common in children but many parents find that their child grows out of their eczema as they grow older.
What is eczema caused by?
Eczema can be caused by a combination of things and can’t just be pinned down to one particular source.
People with atopic eczema have usually inherited it from their parents or someone else in their family, although this can skip a generation.
If you have atopic eczema, you can experience flare ups when your skin comes into contact with certain irritants, which can also be known as triggers.
Some of the most common eczema triggers include:
- Soaps and detergents, e.g. hand soap, shampoo, bubble bath, washing up liquid
- Allergens, e.g. pollen, dust mites, pet fur or dander, mould
- Certain materials, e.g. wool, synthetic fabrics
- Weather conditions, e.g. hot, cold, dry, or damp weather
Some other triggers can be less common or may need a little more explanation, so let’s look at some of these other triggers in detail and what they can mean for you.
Eczema and stress
Stress has a bad habit of causing symptoms which only make you feel more stressed, and sometimes eczema can be one of them.
If you suffer with eczema, you may find that stressful periods in your life can coincide with flare ups, although we’re not exactly sure why this happens.
The one thing we do know is that if stress triggers your eczema, the only sure-fire way to bring things back to normal is to try and reduce your stress levels.
Sounds like a good excuse to relax in your pyjamas with your favourite take out and a movie, if you ask me!
Eczema and diet
If you have a food allergy then you may find that coming into contact with these foods won’t just make your stomach do backflips, but can also affect your skin.
Allergies to cow’s milk, peanuts, soya, wheat, eggs, and any other foods can trigger your eczema, so you may want to look into changing your diet and avoiding these foods if you find that they make your skin dry and itchy.
Eczema and swimming
Some people may find that going swimming in their local pool can irritate their skin and trigger their eczema, but others find that they can go swimming with no problems whatsoever.
This is because the chlorine that’s used to keep swimming pool water clean can irritate your skin in the same way that soaps and detergents can.
However, chlorine also works like a bleach and can kill the bacteria on your skin that aggravates eczema, so going swimming could actually work out pretty well for you.
Of course, you’ll only find out if you actually go swimming, as this is a very individual thing and will be entirely down to how your skin reacts.
Eczema and heat
Some people find that heat can aggravate their eczema, with hot weather or warm conditions causing flare ups.
If you do find that heat triggers your eczema, you should try to keep your home cool, opening windows or using a fan, if possible.
This is especially important in your bedroom, as your skin could become too warm as you sleep, causing a flare up.
Eczema and hormones
Some women find that their hormones can trigger their eczema, and this can happen during their period, during or after pregnancy, or during menopause.
Anyone who’s ever had a zit pop up right in the middle of their chin during their period can tell you that hormones can affect your skin in the most irritating ways, and unfortunately eczema is no exception to this rule.
Thanks again, hormones, you’re the best.
Can eczema be cured?
At this moment in time, atopic eczema can’t be cured, although I’m sure that many eczema sufferers (myself included) wish it could be!
However, you can try to avoid the irritants that cause your eczema and there are treatments available which can help to make your flare ups more manageable when they do happen.
Some of the most popular treatments for eczema are creams and ointments, which can be applied to the area to hydrate your skin and reduce your symptoms.
There are two main types of eczema creams, so let’s have a quick look at both of them and what they do.
Emollients and moisturisers
Emollients and moisturisers help to ease your eczema symptoms by hydrating your skin, helping to keep your skin soft and controlling your flare ups.
Emollients work by forming a protective layer over your skin which helps to keep moisture from escaping, hydrating your skin from the inside out.
Some emollients also contain ingredients which can protect your skin from irritants like soap or detergents, taking a two-pronged approach to managing your eczema flare ups.
Corticosteroids or steroids can be used in creams as a very effective way to soothe inflammation, swelling, and redness in your skin during an eczema flare up.
Some milder steroid creams are available over the counter from your pharmacist, but stronger steroid creams will need to be prescribed by your doctor.
This is because stronger steroid creams should only be used for short periods of time and only on more severe flare ups, so your doctor will need to assess your condition and see whether your eczema could be managed by a gentler treatment.
If you’re not sure whether a steroid cream could help you to manage your eczema, make sure to speak to your doctor or Chemist 4 U pharmacist for advice.
Now we’ve covered off just about everything there is to know about eczema, and hopefully we’ve shed some light on what you can do to keep your eczema under control.
If you’re not sure whether you have eczema, or need more advice about how to treat dry skin conditions, remember that you can always speak to your doctor or Chemist 4 U pharmacist for more information.
They’ll be able to determine whether you have eczema and help you to manage it if you do, they’re pretty fantastic like that!