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Eczema: Getting the facts
By OMC author

People from all walks of life and all ages live with eczema; however, it typically appears in infants. Also called contact dermatitis, eczema is actually a group of skin conditions. Although it may sometimes look like a contagious condition, eczema is not contagious.

Symptoms related to eczema depend on the causes and severity of the form of eczema. A person with mild eczema has dry, hot, and itchy skin. Severe eczema causes the skin to crack, bleed, and often takes a long time to heal. Inflammation in the area is common depending on the type of eczema.

Type of eczema More information
Atopic eczema • Most common form of eczema; affects children and adults.Symptoms include:
   • extreme itchiness
   • dryness of the skin
   • redness
   • inflammation
Irritant contact dermatitis • Occurs when skin becomes irritated by detergents and other chemicals (e.g. perfumes, soaps, bubble bath powder and more).
Varicose eczema • Affects skin on the lower legs and is caused by poor circulation of blood.
Allergic contact dermatitis • Body's immune system attacks a substance in the skin.
• Symptoms are similar to those listed for atopic eczema.
Infantile seborrhoeic eczema • Found on infants under one year old.
• Often looks unpleasant but does not affect the infant's comfort and may appear on the scalp or bottom.
Discoid eczema • Typically associated with adults.
• Found on upper body and lower legs.

Dealing with eczema

In order to deal with eczema, you need to figure out what type of eczema you have. A doctor can help a person living with eczema or someone caring for a child with eczema manage the condition.

Diagnosis of eczema is not simple. A doctor must look at the person's medical history, when they first recognized the condition and what triggers the condition. Some people with atopic dermatitis have allergies and may need allergy testing, especially if treatment with medication is not working.

Reducing the number and frequency of outbreaks is the goal of any eczema treatment. To reach this goal, a person living with eczema may need to:

Lifestyle changes are often useful in reducing and preventing the symptoms of eczema. However, some of these lifestyle changes work for some people and not others. Some changes to consider include:

  • wearing cotton clothing and using cotton bedding to reduce the itchiness associated with the condition. Synthetic fibres don't allow the skin to breathe and wool can irritate the skin.
  • using biological laundry detergents, also avoid using fabric softeners. Synthetic laundry detergents, and fabric softeners may increase itchiness and cause a person to scratch more often. As a result, not using them may help reduce the skin's itchiness.
  • vacuuming, dusting, and changing bedding regularly. This is extremely important because it reduces the number of house dust mites and the droppings from dust mites that are found in bedding, mattresses, curtains, and carpets.
  • possible changes to the foods you eat. Even though the link between diet and eczema is not conclusive, making changes to certain foods consumed in some severe cases of eczema, especially in babies and young children seems beneficial. Always ask your doctor before making dietary changes to ensure the foods eaten will include all necessary nutrients for growth and development.

Common treatments for people with eczema require moisturization of the skin and use of medications, if necessary. Treatment is usually based on a person's age, health, medical history as well as the type and severity of eczema. Possible treatments consist of:

  • lotions and creams: These products are applied directly on the skin to keep in as much moisture as possible. Using organic lotions and creams may be a good alternative to non-organic moisturizers since the non-organic moisturizers contain synthetic chemicals that may cause an outbreak. Moisturizing the skin after showering helps lock in moisture.
  • medications such as topical steroids, oral steroids, and topical immunomodulators: Prescription and non-prescription corticosteroids come in the form of creams and ointments that can be applied to the skin. Prescription corticosteroids are more potent than non-prescription ointments but both have potential side effects, especially if used for long periods of time. Oral steroids are usually prescribed for severe outbreaks. Topical immunomodulators do not contain steroids and are available by prescription to treat atopic eczema.

Other tips that may help people with eczema improve the skin's condition include:

  • keeping nails short
  • avoiding sudden changes in temperatures (e.g. going from cold environments to hot environments)
  • relaxing to reduce stress

References:

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