If you suffer from eczema, your skin can appear red (or darker, if you have dark skin), swollen, crusty and cracking. Itching is common and often caused by skin dryness, infection, allergens or scratching.
You’re not alone. Eczema is an often persistent or recurrent dry skin condition, affecting about one in five children and up to one in 10 adults in the UK.
Eczema tends to start in childhood and is influenced by genetic and environmental factors. People with eczema often suffer other allergic conditions as well, such as asthma, hayfever or both. Food allergy may sometimes be responsible in children who present with more severe eczema early in life.
The severity of eczema can range from mild to quite severe. As many as four in five children may have mild eczema, with episodic flare-ups. Many children with eczema grow out of it by the time they reach adolescence. But in some people, eczema may persist life-long.
Fortunately, while there is no known cure, many effective treatments are available to alleviate the symptoms and reduce inflammation.
So what can you do to get better?
- Avoid trigger factors such as dust-mite antigens or pollen, irritants (such as detergents or dirt), certain foods, pet dander, smoke, certain weather conditions and stress may all impact on eczema. Try to find out whether any of these impact on your eczema and minimise them.
- Avoid soap and bubble bath, as both can dry out the skin. Use emollients as soap.
- Scratching is a natural reflex, but scratching too hard can make the itch even worse (the ‘itch-scratch cycle’). So whenever possible, avoid scratching your skin too hard with your fingernails Instead, rub itchy patches gently with your fingertips
- Hot and cold temperatures may also make your eczema worse. So dress appropriately for hot and cold environments, or try to avoid temperature extremes altogether
- Synthetic garments and wool can trigger eczema, so you may prefer wearing clothes made out of cotton or other non-irritant materials.
- Eczema causes the skin to become dry, and the dryer the skin becomes, the higher the chances that your symptoms will get worse. So try to keep your skin as hydrated and smooth as possible by using your moisturising creams or ointments regularly and liberally, even when your skin appears clear
When should I seek medical advice?
- Your skin problems severely affect your sleep or impair social activities such as swimming.
- Cracking, weeping and painful skin may suggest infection.
- You develop a painful blistery rash, which may be due to an infection with the herpes simplex virus
- Larger areas of your body, such as most of your chest, back, or limbs become dry and/or red.
More information can be found on the NHS website: www.nhs.uk/conditions