October is Eczema Awareness Month!

That itch that won’t seem to go away isn’t just some hives or a rash, sometimes it winds up being eczema. Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic inflammatory condition of the skin and is easily irritated.

Eczema is thought to be caused by a genetic dysfunction in the proteins that make up the epidermis, which is the outermost layer of the skin. The epidermis undergoes the most exposure and contact with the external elements, thus undergoes more abuse than any other layer. Inflammation is a complex process of how the body’s cells react to damage, but prolonged, unregulated inflammation, which occurs in eczema, is abnormal and harmful.That response leads to disruption of the skin’s normal function, as well as bothersome symptoms.

Eczema makes the skin chronically dry, itchy, and in some cases it causes the skin to thicken, also known as lichenification, because of the scratching. Eczema usually occurs on the creases of the skin, such as the forearms, backs of the knees, inner surfaces of the wrists, ankles, and neck.

Currently, there is no cure for eczema and treatment options are limited to only alleviating symptoms and decreasing the amount of future flare-ups. Symptom relief can be achieved by suppressing the over-stimulated immune system. This can be done using medications such as corticosteroids or topical immunosuppressants. Antihistamines can also be used to ease the uncomfortable feeling of constantly itchy skin.

Eczema affects about 3 percent of adults and children, and 10 to 20 percent of infants in the United States. For infants, the rash can secrete an oozing and crusting condition around the itchy areas, which usually breaks out on their face and scalp.

Keeping the skin properly hydrated is an essential factor in controlling eczema. Contrary to popular belief, lotions, creams, and ointments are not all equally beneficial. Moisturizers with high water content are worse for eczema because the water evaporates and dries out the skin, which can actually stimulate outbreaks of eczema. Lotions contain the most water, while ointments contain none.

Being aware of what triggers eczema is important. People with eczema should try to avoid excessive heat, bathing in hot temperatures, excessive sweating, excessive bathing, emotional stress, anxiety, and low-humidity environments.

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