Eczema is a chronic inflammatory response of the skin. The skin with eczema itches and is red, dry and scaly. It is sometimes thickened and may have vesicles filled with clear fluid. Especially the itch is very cumbersome. Eczema is a common condition. There are different types of eczema; the most common are atopic eczema and contact eczema.
The cause of most types of eczema is unfortunately not yet known. But there are theories. It’s known that physical and mental condition and certain environmental factors affect eczema. When a person is ill, tired or very emotional or has a lot of stress, eczema can worsen. With environmental factors, one can think of heat, cold, dust mites and pollen. Eczema is not contagious.
Atopic eczema (hereditary eczema) has been present from birth and is not caused by a particular substance. The skin can overreact to various stimuli from the environment (allergens and irritants). Atopic eczema cannot be prevented. Examples are: respiratory sensitisers (such as dust mites, pollen from grasses and trees and skin cells from dogs and cats), certain foods (such as cow’s milk, fish, peanuts and nuts), strong detergents, chemicals, woolen clothing and effort and sweat.
Contact eczema is caused by contact with an irritant or by allergy. Contact of a particular substance with the skin causes rash. Contact eczema can be prevented or remedied by avoiding those substances. There are many substances which are known to frequently cause problems. For example, base metals (such as nickel and chromium in jewelry), fragrances (such as in cosmetics, perfume and other toiletries), preservatives, plants and flowers (such as chrysanthemums), rubber components and materials used in a particular profession (such as hair dye by hairdressers).
The signs and symptoms of eczema are as follows:
The symptoms of eczema can vary from mild to severe.
The diagnosis is made on the basis of existing skin disorders and itch symptoms. Moreover, information on the prevention of eczema, asthma or allergies in the family may be helpful in making the diagnosis. If there is evidence of acute allergic reactions, allergological investigation is desirable. This does not apply to atopic eczema.
First, the inflammatory response of the skin has to be reduced. The best way to do this, is to use a corticosteroid cream. There are four different groups of corticosteroids, classified in strength. The more intense the inflammation, the stronger the cream that is needed. At the same time with the treatment of an inflammatory response, the skin must become soft and supple again. For this purpose, various types of cream can be used. For a successful treatment it’s necessary that the cream is regularly used for a long time. Even if the skin seems to recover after three or four weeks, it may take up to four to five months to heal entirely.
The eczema usually persists for several years and then disappears, sometimes for life. A small group of patients experiences eczema much longer and is still affected after the age of twenty. The eczema becomes a chronic condition then. But also with this group, the severity of the eczema usually decreases with age.