Eczema & Dermatitis

Eczema or Dermatitis as it is sometimes called, is a group of skin conditions or non-contagious diseases, which have no known cure and which can impact on any age group. Eczema affects about 20% of school age children & about 8% of the adult population although research indicates that a proportion of these children grow out of their condition by the time they reach their mid teens.

The word “Eczema” comes from the Greek word meaning “to boil over. The severity of the disease can vary. In mild forms the skin is dry, hot, flaky and itchy, whilst in more severe forms the skin can become broken, raw and bleeding. Although it can sometimes look unpleasant, eczema is not contagious.

Is there a cure for Eczema? With treatment, the inflammation of eczema can be reduced, or even cleared up completely, although the skin will always be sensitive to flare-ups and need extra care.

The causes of eczema are numerous. Many forms of Eczema, and indeed some other skin conditions, look very similar but have very different causes and treatments. Eczema may affect just a small patch of skin, or in severe cases can affect a large area of skin anywhere on the body.

With some types of eczema, such as Atopic Eczema, which is considered to be the most common form of eczema, patients have a genetic pre-disposition, while others are caused by chemicals and detergents, disinfectants, wool, allergens such as nickel, pet dander, pollens, moulds, food allergies, bacterial, viral and fungal infections and yeast growths. Further, environmental factors such as extremes in temperature, stress and perspiration can also play a role.

There are three different 'stages' of eczema.

The infantile form. This usually begins about six or eight weeks after birth. The itching is often intense and lasts up to until about the age of two years. The rash, which almost always affects the cheeks and the mouth, usually worsens after vaccinations and immunisation and during the teething phase. During the second year of life, the itchy areas develop over the hands, wrists and outer portions of the arms and legs.

The childhood type. While the infantile form in over half the cases resolves between the ages of two and four, it may persist and develop into childhood eczema. The areas that most affected are the creases in the elbow and the bends of the knees. The affected areas are dryer, the skin becomes thicker and greyish in colour, the itching becomes fierce and the sufferers become restless, anxious and hyperactive.

The adolescent and adult types. The infantile and childhood eczemas often resolve after a few years only to reappear in late adolescence. The itching may be intense and is usually worse at night. The areas affected are the creases of the elbows and knees, the face, the shoulders, and the upper back. The itchy and scratched skin thickens and becomes leathery in appearance. The skin usually becomes darker than the surrounding skin and may also develop dry scales. Adult eczema may resolve by the age of 30 or for some sufferers, it may persist throughout their entire lifetime. Seborrhoeic dermatitis is a form of eczema, usually developing between the ages of 20 to 40 years and more common in males. Most studies suggest a yeast over growth as a causative factor.

Reducing the itch

For children in particular, the itchiness of eczema can be very distressing. There are many methods of reducing the itchiness of the skin and minimising the damage from scratching.

  1. Cotton clothing & bedding keep the skin cool and allow it to breathe, whereas synthetic fabrics & wool can irritate.
  2. The use of non-biological washing powders and the avoidance of fabric softeners can also help reduce itchiness of the skin.
  3. Children’s nails should be kept short.
  4. During the day, distraction is often the best way of reducing the amount of scratching.
  5. During sleep, cotton mittens over children’s hands can be helpful in reducing scratching.

The role of diet in the management of eczema

There has been a great deal of research and discussion over the years in regards to the role of diet. There are many foods which are believed to result in intolerances and allergies. Eczema patients are also more likely to have severe reactions to bee stings, some drugs like penicillin and some foods. Dietary changes can be of assistance in babies and young children. When considering altering the diet of a baby or child it is important to seek advice from a Dietician, or a nutritional therapist, in order to ensure that the child continues to receive adequate nutrients. It is also important to wean babies and children off foods etc. very slowly and that you continue to observe for skin reactions.

However, there are also commonly encountered food triggers that act as pro-inflammatory mediators and vaso-active food chemicals that continue to drive the inflammatory response with respect to histamine release in many cases of eczema.

Eczema and Dermatitis can be successfully managed and controlled through the application of creams and ointments and the avoidance of dietary, lifestyle and environmental triggers.

Please note: If you are suffering from severe, extensive eczema or dermatitis and experiencing an acute flare of this condition, seek medical assistance through your GP or Dermatologist before making an appointment at this clinic. We do not treat infantile or childhood eczema (children under 15 years) at this clinic. Our results with eczema treatment are better when commenced during a stable or more chronic phase of the condition.