These days it’s quite common to hear about eczema and how it can give some babies a bit of a hard time. What exactly is eczema?
How do you get rid of it? Can you prevent eczema flare ups? What are the eczema symptoms or the best eczema treatments?
Let’s get eczema under control.
What is eczema?
Eczema is a skin condition, characterized by dry and itchy skin, which can lead to the skin becoming irritated and inflamed.
Eczema is quite common. Research shows that the incidence of eczema has increased throughout the years, affecting up to 15% of infants born in England in the last few years.
The highest prevalence of eczema is in 2 year olds (16.5 %). As we grow up, the incidence decreases to lower than 3% in our thirties; this means that many babies and toddlers who develop eczema will be rid of it as they grow.
What is atopic dermatitis?
Atopy means that your immune system is more likely to develop allergies.
Dermatitis means inflamed skin. The cause of the inflammation will define the type of dermatitis. For example, seborrheic dermatitis is caused by excessive oil production by the skin glands and allergic contact dermatitis refers to when there is direct skin contact with an allergen that provokes inflamed skin.
The term eczema is used to name skin conditions that cause dry skin, an itchy rash and skin inflammation.
Atopic dermatitis is one of the skin conditions known as eczema. Atopic dermatitis is actually the most common type of eczema.
All atopic dermatitis is a type of eczema but not all types of eczema are called atopic dermatitis.
You might also have heard the term atopic eczema used to refer to atopic dermatitis.
Dyshidrotic eczema is a type of eczema that occurs in the hands and feet. Research shows that dyshidrotic eczema can be caused – although not always – by metal hypersensitivity.
Levels of cobalt or nickel should always be checked when this type of eczema appears. This type of eczema is a more common type of adult eczema, due to its location. It can also be caused by contact dermatitis, but not always. Allergens in the diet can also cause this type of eczema.
Atopic dermatitis is the most common type of eczema babies have.
Sometimes it’s difficult to identify when eczema starts to develop in a baby, due to rolls and creases in babies’ skin that might prevent us from seeing the scaly patches.
Many times parents will first identify eczema after their baby shows symptoms of eczema (excessive crying, irritability, excessive drooling and recurrent nappy rash).
Because babies grow so fast and there are so many changes that can affect their skin as they grow, it might be challenging to get rid of eczema completely in babies and young children. Eczema can be controlled, however, and kept at bay, by following the right treatment.
What causes eczema to start?
There are several factors that may trigger eczema flare ups. These precipitating factors might be different in each person affected by eczema.
Genetic and environmental factors
One of the main reasons for developing eczema is the genetic predisposition for it. This is the reason why many people don’t develop eczema or other skin conditions, even if they don’t pay a lot of attention to their skin care.
Environmental factors are those that are connected to where we live – such as irritants in soaps and detergents, body lotions or perfumes.
Cold and dry weather, dampness that might create molds, and dust mites are other factors.
Certain food allergies can also precipitate atopic dermatitis symptoms. Eczema can often be an allergic reaction to something that comes into contact with our skin, or something we ingest.
Sensitive skin can very quickly become very dry skin.
When the skin is dry, it’s much easier for it to break and become irritated. The skin becomes irritated and then usually starts to itch. If we can’t control that itchiness and we scratch the affected skin, it will most likely break and we’ll develop severe eczema patches that can lead to various skin diseases.
Dry skin can soon become irritated skin and this will easily develop into an inflammatory skin condition if we don’t take prompt action.
Prolonged exposure to water
Our skin becomes debilitated when it goes through a lengthy exposure to water. Sweat in large quantities can irritate our skin, especially if we also get cold while we’re sweaty.
Long baths and water immersions are not a good idea if you want to keep your skin’s barrier function at its best.
What triggers eczema flare ups?
In most cases, eczema flare ups are caused by an irritant agent or an allergen. It is important to identify each individual eczema triggering factor, so as to keep eczema at bay.
Start by removing the most common allergens from your diet. These are: wheat; eggs; tomatoes (especially raw); capsicum peppers; strawberries; eggplant; oranges; peanuts; chocolate; dairy; and refined sugar.
Be patient. This method will be well worth it but it might take a bit of time to identify what your eczema triggers are.
Once your symptoms of eczema have improved, you can start to reintroduce these potential allergens one by one, with 2-3 day gap between each one. That way, if you experience any eczema trigger symptoms, you’ll be able to identify which foods cause your flare ups.
Let’s look at the symptoms of atopic dermatitis – the most common type of eczema.
When you have very dry skin, drought cracks form. Imagine the bottom of a lake or a river in a time of drought. When your skin is dry, cracks appear, giving it its scaly appearance. Scaly skin flakes and breaks much more easily than hydrated skin.
One of the worst aspects of eczema is the itch.
The flaring up of very itchy patches of skin is, as you can imagine, very challenging to leave ‘unattended’. When those who suffer from eczema are very young, such as a babies or toddlers, it might be difficult to deal appropriately with itchy skin.
If they have access to the eczema they might scratch compulsively to relieve itching. If they don’t have access to the itchy patches in moderate or severe eczema, or if they are so young they don’t have the capacity to scratch their itchy skin, the symptoms of eczema might relate to their inability to scratch the itch: irritability; spasmodic movements; restlessness; and intense crying.
In most cases, scratching will momentarily relieve itching but will eventually make the symptoms worse. Scratching can trigger skin infections and other infectious diseases.
Regardless of the type of eczema (atopic dermatitis, nummular eczema, venous eczema), the appearance of a skin rash is a very characteristic symptom of eczema. Where the skin rash appears might vary between individuals but might also appear in different flare ups in the same individual.
Although eczema is a chronic (long-lasting) condition there are various eczema treatments that will help keep eczema under control.
Trying to prevent eczema from flaring up would be ideal.
Keeping the skin clean, dry and moisturized, avoiding dampness and keeping contact and food allergens away will go a long way to prevent eczema flare ups.
If for any reason an eczema flare up occurs, you can try these treatments.
Colloidal oatmeal works really well to relieve eczema itchiness.
Just buy normal oats, grind them until they become flour and add a couple of spoonfuls to the bath water. This works best when the inflammatory skin condition has made it break and it’s very itchy. The colloidal oatmeal bath is one of the best remedies against eczema itchy skin.
Keep skin dry and moisturized
Avoid sweat ing and dry the skin as soon as possible after any sweating. Make sure all the skin is pat dried, after a bath or shower, and moisturize the skin often. Focus on the places where eczema tends to appear during flare ups.
Eczema flare ups have a lot to do with the release of stress hormones. When you’re stressed, it affects your entire body. Some people are more prone to feel stress in the digestive tract, others in the head and, for those with sensitive skin, stress reactions tend to manifest in the skin.
If the person affected with eczema is a child or an infant it’s also very important that you keep them informed of what’s happening in the family dynamics, especially when the dynamics change. If adults are stressed, worried, nervous, frustrated, hurt or sad, their children will actually perceive all these feelings. Many times we try to keep worry and upset away from our kids and we don’t talk about what we consider ‘adult’ things.
However, our children can actually pick up that something isn’t quite right and, if nobody explains, feelings of guilt and low self-esteem might arise.
Childhood eczema has a lot to do with stress, and this isn’t often spoken about.
Always let your child know when things go awry. The child might not need all the information but needs to know that he or she is loved and is not the cause of the parents’ stress.
When eczema flare ups are too severe and difficult to manage due to an overactive immune system, topical steroids might be the solution. Check with your doctor if the natural remedies mentioned above are not working for you.
Steroids usually get rid of eczema flare ups quickly but we must apply them with caution, as we must protect our immune system as much as possible. Let’s say that although steroids work, they also reduce your body’s ability to activate its own immune system response.
Is eczema contagious?
Don’t worry; eczema isn’t a contagious disease. You can be with someone with an active eczema flare up. You can even touch a person where there are eczema flares and you will not get eczema.
How to cure eczema permanently
As we’ve mentioned before, prevention is your strongest weapon against eczema. You cannot cure eczema permanently, as it will most likely come back if you are not careful. Eczema is a chronic, long-lasting condition that can be kept at bay with discipline. Know your allergens, know what causes your flare ups and avoid those situations.
How to stop eczema itching immediately
When you suffer from severe eczema and you suffer an itchy flare up, all you want is for the itchiness to go away.
A colloidal oatmeal bath works wonders for the itchiness eczema produces.
Calamine lotion can be helpful for small patches of eczema.
As a last resource, keep your nails short and scratch, if you must, around the itchy area. Instead of using your nails to scratch the affected areas, you can also use your fingertips to apply pressure.
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