Learn more about a common skin condition, eczema, and how our board-certified dermatologists can help you.
Eczema, sometimes referred to as atopic dermatitis, is a condition of the skin that leaves it dry and irritated, causing it to crack and sometimes bleed. Eczema can be seen in patients of all ages, but particularly children. It is a very common term used to describe inflammatory skin conditions that lead to chronic itching and skin damage. There are numerous things that can trigger and/or worsen eczema, including soaps, chemicals, fragrances, food allergies, pet dander, other systemic allergies, and other irritants to name a few. There are numerous treatments including topical corticosteroid creams, immunomodulators, ultraviolet light treatment, and others.
While physicians are unsure of the exact cause of eczema, it is thought to be a combination of several factors:
- Immune dysfunction
- Environmental exposures, including:
- Irritating soaps
- Changes in weather
Children are more likely to have eczema; however, people can develop eczema at any age. Some children will grow out of it but it may return again in later years. Those with asthma, hay fever, and certain allergies are more prone to eczema than others. Additionally, a family history of eczema or asthma and hay fever can increase the risk of developing eczema to flare.
Eczema presents with dry, itching skin that can be red and cracked, or can occasionally be bumpy. Severe forms of eczema can cause fluid to come out from the cracks left in the skin. If left untreated, these cracks can allow bacteria and viruses to penetrate the skin and lead to a more serious infection.
Eczema cannot be cured, but needs to be managed chronically. Occasionally, changes to the patient’s skincare routine are all that is needed to maintain clear skin. Flares and poorly controlled eczema can be treated with medicated ointments or creams. Antibiotics may be necessary if there is concern for infection. Similarly, bleach baths or vinegar water soaks may be used to prevent infections.
As fragrances, dyes and other chemicals can exacerbate eczema, it is important to use fragrance-free and sensitive skin self-care and laundry products. Avoid alcohol-based products, including aerosol and waterless hand sanitizers, as alcohol is very drying for the skin. Antihistamines taken routinely can decrease the itch associated with eczema and are particularly helpful in patients with associated hay fever and seasonal allergies.
Because eczema cannot be cured, a patient will always have the tendency for flares of the skin. And while hereditary eczema cannot be prevented, the frequency and severity of the flares can be managed with good skincare and avoidance of irritants.