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Eczema Symptoms, Causes and Treatments

If you’ve experienced dry, scaly, red and itchy skin you may suffering from atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema. But don’t worry, you aren’t alone, around 10-15 % of Australians suffer from this persistent inflammatory skin condition.

Eczema is not contagious – you can’t catch it. The exact cause is unknown and there may be many factors leading to the development of eczema – including genetics and environmental factors. When irritant “switches on” the immune system, inflammation results. It is this inflammation that causes the symptoms of eczema.

Eczema can be a result of both internal and external factors including:


Internal causes

- Family history of eczema, often associated with asthma and/or hayfever.

- Certain foodstuffsl (including dairy, wheat, citrus, seafood, eggs, nuts, preservatives and colourings)

- Emotional stress

External causes

- Irritants (excessive exposure to hot water, chemicals including body wash, chlorine in swimming pools)

- Allergens (Dust mites, moulds, soaps, shampoos, pet dander, grasses)

Reducing exposure to triggers will help tp reduce symptoms but in some cases it may not be possible to identify the cause of your eczema.


Symptoms

The symptoms of eczema can be devastating to patients making daily tasks much more difficult. These include:

- Dry skin

- Scaly areas with redness in particular on the elbows, hands and back of the knees

- Watery fluid weeping from the skin

Secondary infection is possible when the skin surface is broken through scratching.

Treatments:

Eczema is a recurring condition that needs to be managed. The best way to keep it under control is to establish a daily skin care regimen and stick with it.

- Topical anti-inflammatory creams and ointments (corticosteroids or non-steroidproducts) to treat the rash. Milder products are available over the counter, stronger products require a prescription from the doctor.

- Regular use of moisturisers help to protect and rehydrate the skin. These help enhance the effects of the steroid and improve the tone of the skin to reduce severity. Don’t limit moisturisers to bath time – slather them on throughout the day whenever the skin starts to itch or feel dry.

- Tar-based products help to reduce itching, usually as a soak in a luke-warm bath. In some cases a cold wet compress may be used.

- Where infection is present antibiotics may be required (consult your doctor).

- “Bleach baths” are thought to reduce the risk of infection by decreasing the bacteria on the skin, and reducing inflammation in both children and adults. There are a couple of products available – ask your pharmacist.

- Where night-time scratching is a problem consider an antihistamine. These may be sedating but they can help to prevent scratching. Ask your pharmacist if these could be right for you.

While the condition is often distressing, remember that eczema is often quite manageable and you are not alone! Depending on severity a quick visit to your GP can make all the difference in keeping your symptoms under control.

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