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
Family history of eczema, often associated
with asthma and/or hayfever.
Certain foodstuffsl (including dairy,
wheat, citrus, seafood, eggs, nuts, preservatives and colourings)
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
The symptoms of eczema can be devastating to patients making
daily tasks much more difficult. These include:
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.
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
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
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.