What is Eczema - Atopic Dermatitis?
Written by Amanda Wattson, MD
Monday, 05 October 2009
Eczema is a skin condition that causes patches of dry, scaly, extremely itchy skin.
What is going on in the body?
Eczema usually results from a hypersensitivity, or allergy-like sensitivity, causing inflammation. The inflammation causes the skin to become itchy and scaly. Eczema is not a true allergy. Rather, it is a condition in which the skin may react or become sensitive to allergens, which are allergy-causing substances.
What are the causes and risks of the condition?
Eczema is usually related to a history of hypersensitivity or reaction in the body similar to an allergy. Although eczema is more common in babies and young children, older children and adults may also experience eczema. It seems to be more evident in those with a history of asthma or hay fever. It is also more common in a person who has a family history of eczema, hay fever, or other respiratory allergies.
Flare-ups of eczema may occur with exposure to environmental factors, such as stress, dry climate or high temperatures, soaps, chlorine, and other irritating substances. Foods that may cause worsening of symptoms include peanut butter, milk, or eggs.
What are the treatments for the condition?
The main goal of treatment is to minimize and treat symptoms. Treatment may include the following recommendations:
- Avoid irritants that tend to worsen symptoms.
- Avoid scratching the lesions.
- Keep the skin moist with lotions and ointments to reduce symptoms.
- Avoid excessive bathing and lengthy exposure to baths to reduce flare-ups.
- Don't bathe babies with soap too frequently. Mild neutral soaps are recommended as needed, and bubble baths should be avoided.
- Keep infants' and children's fingernails cut short to avoid irritating lesions from scratching.
- Avoid heavy ointments such as petroleum jelly or vegetable shortening. These can make symptoms worse because these products block the sweat glands.
Medications used to treat eczema include the following:
- topical ointment for lesions that are oozing or extremely itchy, including mild anti-itching lotions or topical steroids
- coal-tar compound ointments or topical steroids for chronic thickened patches
- oral steroids, such as prednisone, for severe cases of eczema or inflammation
- antibiotics for secondary infection
- antihistamines to reduce inflammation and itching
What are the side effects of the treatments?
Side effects to treatment depend on the treatment used. Topical steroid ointments and oral steroids can cause further irritation of the skin or secondary skin conditions. Antibiotics can cause stomach upset, diarrhea, and allergic reaction. Antihistamines may cause drowsiness.
What happens after treatment for the condition?
After treatment, a person who has eczema may need to avoid situations or conditions that make the eczema worse.