What is Eczema?
Eczema is a form of inflammation of the epidermis or dermatitis. It is characterized by redness and swelling.
Causes of Eczema
The exact cause of Eczema is not known. It is believed to be caused due to problems with the functioning of the skin as a barrier. The reasons could be genetic problems, or it can be triggered due to substances like soap, sweat and even jewelry. In some individuals, changes in the environment and allergens can cause an outbreak. Many sufferers also suffer from asthma. Therefore research suggests that it is due to lack of exposure to allergens during early years of life which conditions the immune system, is the cause.
Diagnosis of Eczema
Diagnosis of eczema is done on the basis of thorough physical examination. The physician examines everything the patient and records a medical history comprising details regarding eating habits, known allergies including contact allergies, problems like asthma, past illness and family history, as dermatitis often runs in families.
After the physical examination, a doctor may perform a skin biopsy to rule out other disorders that mimic the symptoms of this problem. There is not laboratory blood test to confirm this problem. Once other skin problems have been ruled out eczema is confirmed. However, it is important at this stage to also find out the cause of the problem. A skin patch test may be done to find out about allergies. Other tests of dermatitis including blood work may also be done.
Medications for Eczema
Medications that are used for the sake of treatment and mitigating the symptoms include
The above belong to class of oral anti histamines which have a sedative effect on the body.
For short duration treatment, oral corticosteroids like prendisone, are prescribed for dermatitis. Topical creams approved for treatment include tacrolimus and pimecrolimus.
Prevention of Eczema
Eczema outbreaks can be prevented by avoiding substances that trigger an outbreak. This requires identifying the triggering substances, allergens, foods and environmental factors. The skin has to be kept in a hydrated state and regular exercise is required to keep the body metabolism working perfectly.
Symptoms of Eczema
- Redness of the skin
- Colored scaling and yellowing
- Bleeding due to excessive scratching
- Dryness and crusting
Treatment of Eczema
Since the cause of eczema is not known, there is no fixed treatment. The objective of treatment is to manage symptoms and reduce their intensity. Lifestyle changes with respect to eating habits and living, may be required. Often the allergens are environmental and avoiding them or minimizing the time spent in such environments prevents eczema outbreak. The skin has to be kept clean and hydrated always. The use of moisturizers helps in reducing the chances of an outbreak.
Corticosteroids creams of medium to high strength are used to control extreme itching and dermatitis. Oral antihistamines can also be used. An acute outbreak of eczema can be controlled with a short course of oral corticosteroids. However these are prescribed for long term use as they tend to have severe side effects. Immunosuppressant is also used for reducing the symptoms of eczema outbreak. Other treatment options include phototherapy with UV light.
Types of Eczema
- Atopic Eczema - It is the most common type and it is often found to be hereditary. It is caused due to allergens or triggers found in the environment.
- Contact Eczema - It is caused when the skin comes in contact with the allergen, like detergent, soap or jewelry. The reaction is local and it the skin turns red and itchy.
- Seborrheic eczema does not have a known cause. The skin develops yellowish, oily and scaly patches. The scalp and the face are common areas of the body which are affected.
- Nummular eczema is characterized by coin shaped patches on the skin and is commonly present on the limbs. The patches may scale and crust.
- Neurodermatitis is caused by scratch itch cycle. It starts with an itch which becomes intensely irritated and worsens when scratched.
- Stasis dermatitis is an irritation that commonly occurs on the lower legs and has a circulatory cause.
- Dyshidrotic eczema does not have a known cause. It is characterized by deep blisters on the palms and soles of the feet. It is an itchy and burning condition.