Typical symptoms of eczema include dry, red, and itchy skin. If you're experiencing them, perhaps it's time to identify the cause.
What is eczema?
Eczema, also called “dermatitis”, is one of the most common skin conditions. The term encompasses a variety of conditions which affect the topmost layer of the skin. Typical symptoms of eczema include inflammation, irritation, dryness, and redness of the skin.
The most common type of eczema is called “atopic dermatitis”. The term “atopic” refers to a predisposition to developing allergic reactions. Therefore, this type of eczema is often associated with allergies of some kind (e.g., pollen, animals, food, chemicals, etc.). People with atopic dermatitis have sensitive skin that tends to react strongly to all kinds of stimuli. This is the type of eczema we will be focusing on in this text.
What are the causes and risk factors of eczema?
The exact cause of eczema is currently unknown. However, it is certain that genetics play a significant role in the development of the condition; some people are more predisposed to it due to heredity. In fact, people with a close relative who suffers from eczema are at greater risk of also being affected.
Certain external factors can also contribute to the onset of eczema symptoms, such as irritating substances and allergens. Additionally, it is believed that stress could increase the occurrence of symptoms.
Although anyone can be affected by eczema, young children are most at risk. A vast majority of those affected by eczema are children under the age of five. It is estimated that more than 15% of North American children are affected by it.
How can the signs and symptoms be recognized?
Although there are different types of eczema, the manifestations are usually similar from one type to another. Here are the main ones:
- dry, irritated skin
- crust formation
- scaling (flakes cast off from the skin)
- presence of fluid-filled vesicles
Although symptoms can appear anywhere on the body, eczema most often affects the hands, ankles, elbows, and knees. The most classic symptom is itching.
What should you do if you suspect eczema?
If you suspect you or your child have eczema, the first step is to see a healthcare professional. It is sometimes difficult to recognize eczema, as its symptoms are similar to several other skin conditions. Make sure you see a doctor before arriving at a diagnosis.
If you do have eczema, prevention is key in managing the condition. Keeping the skin moisturized and avoiding irritating or allergy-provoking agents will help protect it. It's important to choose cosmetic products (e.g., cleansers, moisturizers, makeup, etc.) with care. Some are designed for particularly sensitive skin, such as that of people living with eczema.
Various drug treatments can be used in the event of a flare-up.
Many of these are in topical form, i.e., cream, pomade, gel, etc. In more severe cases, oral or injectable medication may be considered, as well as other types of treatment (e.g., phototherapy). Your pharmacist can inform you about the differences between each treatment to help you make an informed choice and explain how to use them properly.
Don’t hesitate to speak to your pharmacist for additional information about the prevention and treatment of eczema.