Eczema is an umbrella term for dry, itchy skin and rashes on the face, eyelids, hands, feet, ankles, wrists, neck, chest, eyelids, inside the elbows and knees.
What is eczema?
Eczema is a chronic condition that usually starts in infancy with dry, scaly patches on the scalp, face and forehead. 90% of people get eczema before their fifth birthday, and it can persist into adulthood. However, it often improves with age but can flare up when triggered. Even after the condition resolves, some patients live with dry, sensitive skin that is easily irritated.
What causes eczema?
Dermatitis is caused by a combination of a genetic component and a trigger. The genetic component causes a hyper-reactive immune system. When triggered the system overreacts causing inflammation and itchy, painful symptoms called flareups. The result is allergic contact dermatitis from soaps and detergents, cleaning fluids and disinfectants. The challenge is identifying the triggers which are specific to each affected individual.
Common triggers may include very dry skin, metals like nickel, cigarette smoke, fragrances, some fabrics, antibacterial ointments and wipes, substances in shampoo and dyes. Dust mites, sweating and stress are also common triggers. Environmental allergens like air that is too dry or too humid, hot showers or baths, infections with bacteria and viruses, molds, seasonal pollen, pet dander and dandruff.
People with eczema tend to also have asthma or hay fever (allergic rhinitis), or family members with these conditions. More than 50% of children with eczema develop asthma or hay fever by age 13.
What are the symptoms?
Eczema is intensely itchy (pruritus). Sometimes the only thing that stops the itch is pain caused by scratching. The itch so intense that the patient scratches until the skin bleeds, leading to more inflammation and itching. This is known as the itch-scratch cycle. Constant scratching causes the skin to become thick, scaly, and cracked. The scaly patches are embarrassing and uncomfortable. There may also be small raised bumps that leak fluid and crust over when scratched.
The goal is to control the itching. For some the itching is so bad that they cannot sleep and suffer from depression and anxiety. Antihistamines do not work but can help you fall asleep. The use of cotton gloves can protect the skin from scratching. Topical and immune suppression drugs may help reduce the itch.
If you or a loved one suffers with eczema, contact Dr. Swetha Kandula in Parsippany, New Jersey for a proper diagnosis and effective treatments.