There are many different types of eczema. The commonest type of eczema is called Atopic Eczema. This is an inflammatory skin problem. The term 'Atopic' describes eczema in those patients who have a genetic link to having eczema which is often also associated with asthma and hayfever.
Atopic Eczema is a common condition with approximately 20% of children suffering with some degree of eczema. It has been found to affect between 2% and 18% of adults.
Eczema is predominantly a condition of childhood and the majority of cases present before the age of 5 years old. However it is still possible to develop eczema as an adult.
Eczema is a long term skin condition there are many treatments available that can control the symptoms. Eczema is often seen to improve, and in some cases completely clear, as children get older.
Eczema causes the patient to experience dry itchy skin. It can become red and sore without treatment. There are certain areas of the body that eczema affects the most often. In adults these tend to be the hands, insides of elbows and behind the knees. In children it is also often affects the face. These eczema symptoms can vary and may flare up from time to time therefore the treatment needed may vary depending on how bad the symptoms are.
It is possible to get a very severe flare up of eczema where the whole body is affected by red and inflamed skin. This requires urgent specialist treatment.
It is not fully know what causes eczema but it is known to run in families. Patients with eczema will often have triggers that can lead to a flare up. Some of the triggers include:
It is also possible for eczema to flare up if it gets infected. Infections could be either viral or bacterial and need treating promptly.
Flare ups of eczema can be reduced by avoiding any known triggers and careful management with emollients (moisturisers) to prevent dry skin.
It is often necessary for eczema patient to use moisturisers on a daily basis even when they have no symptoms as this can keep eczema symptoms at bay and prevent a flare up. To help with this patients may also use a soap substitute to avoid soaps and shampoos that can trigger a flare up.
If a flare up occurs then the mainstay of treatment is still moisturisers but they may need to be applied much more often and sometimes up to every four hours.
If the symptoms are more severe or not settling with the moisturiser treatment it may be necessary to treat with a course of steroid cream. The strength of the steroid cream needed will depend on the site of the flare up (e.g. Mild steroids are usually used on the face, stronger steroids may be needed for hands or other areas of the body.
It is best to use the steroid creams for the shortest time needed as long term use and overuse can cause side effects.