Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is a chronic inflammatory disorder of the skin. The cause of eczema is thought to be a genetic dysfunction in proteins that make up the epidermis. Inflammation is a complex process that normally protects the body’s cells against damage, but prolonged, unregulated inflammation, which occurs in eczema, is abnormal and harmful.
Eczema affects the epidermis, the fifth and outermost layer of the skin that is in direct contact with the world. In eczema, the epidermis is irritated by the various triggers discussed below, and this irritation causes an inappropriately severe inflammatory response. That response leads to disruption of the skin’s normal function, as well as bothersome symptoms.
Eczema is also a significant cosmetic concern and can be very upsetting psychologically.
What are the symptoms of eczema?
Eczema presents as chronically dry skin, pruritic (itchy) skin, and in some cases, lichenification (skin thickening) due to continuous scratching. In adults, the most common areas affected are the creases of the skin: the forearms, backs of the knees, inner surfaces of the wrists, the ankles, and the neck.
Because eczema is a chronic condition for which there is presently no cure, the goals of treatment are to alleviate symptoms, prevent future flare-ups, and address any cosmetic concerns. 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.
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. The better options for skin moisturizers are creams or ointments: creams contain less water, and ointments contain none. This helps keep the epidermal layer intact.
Being aware of what triggers eczema is important. People with eczema should try to avoid excessive heat (e.g., bathing in hot temperatures), excessive sweating, excessive bathing, emotional stress, anxiety, and low-humidity environments. This may seem frustrating at first, but it is possible to make slight lifestyle adjustments that will ease the pain of eczema.
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