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All About Eczema

According to the National Eczema Association, 31.6 million people in the U.S. have some form of eczema, a common, but not contagious inflammation of the skin. Yet, despite its prevalence, many sufferers aren’t really sure what triggers it or how they can keep the symptoms at bay.

What is Eczema?

Eczema, also referred to as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic, recurring, itchy rash that usually develops during early infancy and childhood. The condition causes the skin to become red, itchy, and swollen — sometimes leading to fluid-filled bumps that ooze and crust.

In a recent episode of Windsor Dermatology’s webinar series, Healthy Skin Highlights, nationally recognized eczema expert Dr. Jerry Bagel explained, “One of the manifestations of eczema is lichenification, a thickening of the skin caused by chronic scratching. Some physicians consider eczema more of an itch than a rash because it’s the itch that induces the rash.”

Fortunately, most cases of eczema resolve by the age of 10, but about 10-15% continue into adulthood. Although less likely, some people experience an onset of eczema in adulthood.

“It can happen at any time but it’s most common in kids. I actually think there’s been an increase of eczema in adults,” Dr. Bagel said.

What are the Symptoms of Eczema?

Eczema is a capricious disease that will flare up, subside, and then flare up again without much notice. If you have a red, itchy rash, but you’re not sure if it’s eczema, here are some other symptoms that can help you identify it:

  • Intense itching
  • Red or brownish-gray patches
  • Thickened, scaly skin
  • Small, raised bumps that ooze fluid

With such intensely irritated skin, simple activities like sleeping, working, or playing can become difficult for those with eczema. It’s important to remember that scratching may satisfy the itch temporarily, but it will only irritate and inflame the skin further.

“When the rashes become oozy, it’s probably infected, known as impetiginization,” Dr. Bagel said. “In normal skin, the epidermis usually produces antimicrobial peptides to help us fight infection. With eczema, the skin doesn’t produce enough of these peptides.”

What Triggers Eczema?

The root cause of eczema is not known; although, it’s believed to be caused by an overactive immune system. That said, several eczema triggers have been identified, and being aware of them can help your risk of a flareup on a day-to-day basis. Some of these include:

  • Stress
  • Sweating
  • Hormones
  • Climate
  • Irritants like metals, fragrance, and fabrics
  • Airborne allergens
  • Insect bites

What Types of Treatments Exist for Eczema?

To treat eczema, it’s essential to see a doctor who can evaluate your condition and prescribe the appropriate medication for your mild or severe eczema.

For mild eczema, you can take some simple steps, according to Dr. Bagel:

  • Avoid hot water in the shower
  • Avoid using harsh soaps like Ivory
  • Avoid taking frequent showers or baths
    • When you do bathe, use oatmeal or Aveeno powder, Dove soap, and lukewarm water for 20 minutes
  • Avoid lotions
    • Use creams and ointments like Aquaphor or Cetaphil instead
  • Take antihistamines like Benadryl and Zyrtec at night
  • Avoid going from really hot temperatures to really cold temperatures
    • Wear layers and take them off one by one to adjust your body’s temperature

For more severe cases, a medical professional may recommend corticosteroids, medication, phototherapy, or Dupixent, a monoclonal antibody that’s been FDA-approved for four years.

“Dupixent is injected subcutaneously every other week, and decreases the amount of histamine and T cells, while increasing the number of antimicrobial peptides on the epidermis,” Dr. Bagel said. “Within four weeks, about 50 percent of people will have a significant improvement in itching.”

Another option your dermatologist may suggest is a bleach bath, which can help kill the staph on your skin without having to take antibiotics. It’s important to only use this treatment if it’s been recommended by a doctor.

Visit Windsor Dermatology for a Consultation

You don’t have to suffer through life with itchy or inflamed skin. If you or your child are experiencing symptoms of eczema, call Windsor Dermatology today to schedule a consultation. And if you can’t afford a doctor, Dr. Bagel urges, “Please give us a call and let us see what we can do for you!”

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