Eczema

Eczema (or dermatitis) refers to a group of skin disorders characterised by rashes that include inflammation, itching, and scaling or flaking of the skin. Eczema affects some 10% of infants and three to five per cent of adults. Eczema is usually irritating rather than serious. However, the skin may become infected by bacteria and antibiotic treatment may be needed.

The most common form is atopic eczema, which is an allergic condition, commonly associated with asthma, hay fever, and a family history of allergies. It usually occurs in early childhood and is due to t’e body’s inability to repair damage to the skin barrier. Many people outgrow it by early adulthood. When eczema flares up, the skin becomes red, scaly and itchy.

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Sometimes tiny blisters filled with clear fluid can form and the skin can weep. Weeping skin is a sign that infection is present.

The exact cause of eczema is unknown, although there are links to some factors:

  • A family history of eczema, asthma or hay fever
  • Some food and alcohol (dairy and wheat, citrus fruits, eggs, nuts, seafood, chemical food additives, preservatives and colourings)
  • Stress
  • Irritants such as tobacco smoke, chemicals, weather (i.e. hot and humid or cold and dry conditions), air conditioning and overheating
  • Allergens (e.g. pollens, moulds, dust mites, pets, soaps, shampoos, washing powders, cosmetics and toiletry products)
  • Eczema can vary in severity and symptoms on a daily basis. Some tips on managing eczema include:
  • Avoid long, hot showers or baths
  • Avoid soap and other skin irritants
  • Keep the skin moist by lubricating with creams or lotions. Avoid those which contain alcohol, scents, dyes, fragrances, or other chemicals
  • Keep skin cool – avoid overheating
  • Avoid wearing synthetic fabrics
  • Avoid scratching the rash or skin by keeping your or your child’s fingernails cut short
  • Relieve the itch by using a moisturizer or by taking antihistamines for relief

The goal of treating eczema is to heal the skin, and prevent and minimise flare-ups of the condition.

Treatment of eczema can vary and can include:

  • Medications that are placed directly on the skin or scalp (topical medications) such as anti-inflammatory ointments e.g. topical steroid creams such as cortisone
  • Oral medications prescribed by a doctor
  • Moisturisers, especially after bathing or swimming
  • Keeping the skin cool, especially while sleeping
  • Dietary changes – only under the medical supervision
  • Ultraviolet radiation therapy (phototherapy) – used in chronic cases

If you suffer from eczema, it is important to see your doctor before starting any kind of treatment. Your pharmacist stocks many products designed to help treat and control eczema, so speak to them about your condition and they will be able to provide expert advice on what products may suit you.

Hayfever

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