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Below you’ll learn more about eczema, its underlying causes and what you can do to treat it as effectively as possible.
What is eczema?
Eczema is a chronic and common skin condition caused by skin inflammation. It may start at any age, but the onset often takes place in infancy. Actually, one in every five children in the modern world are affected by eczema at some stage.
Eczema usually occurs in people who have an ‘atopic tendency’. This means they may develop any or all of three, closely-linked conditions: eczema, asthma and hay fever. Often, these conditions run within families. The most common symptoms include itching, dry skin and a rash which mainly affect the skin creases, neck, face and hands. There’s no cure for eczema yet, but it can be effectively treated and managed.
Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic and common skin condition caused by skin inflammation
Eczema as a disease can be subdivided into different types. Let’s have a look at some of the most common:
Atopic dermatitis is by far the most common form of eczema. It usually starts in childhood, and often gets milder or completely goes away by adulthood. Atopic dermatitis is part of what healthcare professionals often call the atopic triad (triad means three). The other two diseases in the triad are asthma and hay fever, and many people with atopic dermatitis often have all three diseases.
Atopic eczema is usually characterised by rash creases in the elbows and knee joints. The skin areas affected by the rash may turn lighter or darker and get thicker than the surrounding skin. In severe cases, small bumps may show up and leak fluid when scratched.
Specifically for babies, the rash typically affects their scalps and cheeks, and can also be exacerbated by diaper rashes.
Contact dermatitis often appears as red, irritated and slightly elevated skin areas. It happens because of a reaction towards a substance that has been in contact with the skin. It comes in two different forms — allergic contact dermatitis and irritant contact dermatitis. Allergic contact dermatitis is an immune system reaction to an irritant like latex, or metals like nickel. Irritant contact dermatitis, on the other hand, is triggered when a chemical substance irritates the skin. Some of the most commonly reported irritants are alcohol, lanolin and SLS.
Besides what contact dermatitis looks like, a reaction can also be a severe burning and stinging sensation on the affected area.
Dyshidrotic eczema is characterised by small blisters forming on the hands and feet, and is for some reason more common among women than men. The blisters are fluid-filled and are often itchy and painful. Dyshidrotic eczema can be triggered by different allergies, exposure to irritants, damp hands and feet, and stress factors.
Eczema which only affects the hands is called hand dermatitis, and is a subtype of contact dermatitis caused by continuous exposure to certain substances. Hand dermatitis is, due to its triggers, often seen among hairdressers and cleaning personnel, and in other lines of work which include repeated exposure to the same substances.
Neurodermatitis is similar to atopic dermatitis, and causes scaly patches to pop up on different areas on the skin. It often affects the arms, legs, back of the neck, scalp, backs of the hands and feet, or genitals, and is often associated with other types of eczema or psoriasis. Healthcare professionals don’t know exactly what causes it, although stress has been identified as a primary trigger.
Nummular eczema causes round, coin-shaped spots that form on the skin — earning the name ‘nummular’, which means ‘coin’ in Latin. A characteristic of nummular eczema is that it looks very different from other types of eczema, which makes it easier to diagnose.
Triggers of nummular dermatitis can be insect bites, substance irritation, or even dry skin.
Stasis dermatitis happens when fluid leaks from weakened veins into the skin —causing swelling, redness, itching and pain. Stasis dermatitis is predominantly seen among people suffering from a blood flow problem, and often affects the lower parts of the legs.
What causes eczema?
We don’t know the exact cause of atopic eczema, but it looks like a number of factors are involved in its development, including patient susceptibility and environmental factors.
Two main hypotheses have been proposed to explain how inflammation develops which leads to atopic eczema:
- The first hypothesis suggests a primary immune dysfunction, or a disorder within the body’s own immune system. It results in inflammation and leads to alterations in the skin’s barrier function.
- The second hypothesis proposes a primary defect in the skin barrier itself. This implies that skin with eczema does not provide the protection from the environment that normal skin does; this alteration to the skin’s barrier function enables environmental irritants to increasingly penetrate the skin. This, in turn, increases inflammation and sensitivity. Environmental factors include contact with irritants such as soaps, detergents and other chemicals applied to the skin, as well as exposure to allergens or infections with certain bacteria and viruses.
Recent advances in understanding the genetic causes behind eczema tend to support the second hypothesis, and suggest that patients develop eczema as a result of primary skin barrier defects.
It’s also important to note that eczema is not contagious! You or your child cannot ‘catch’ it from another person, or give it to someone else
We also know that atopic eczema runs in families, although we don’t know exactly how it is passed down from parents to children. If one parent has atopic eczema, asthma, or hay fever, there’s about a 50% chance that their child will have at least one of these diseases. If both parents have one or more of these conditions, the chances are much greater that their child will, too.
It’s also important to note that eczema is not contagious! You or your child cannot ‘catch’ it from another person, or give it to someone else.
What is the first line of treatment?
Among healthcare practitioners, it is well accepted that moisturisers should be considered the first line of treatment, even though prescription medication is often a necessary part of the treatment regime. But studies have shown that by applying moisturiser on a daily basis, it's possible to lower the severity of flare-ups, and even prolong remission periods between them. Studies have actually shown that in predisposed children, the risk of developing atopic dermatitis can be reduced by as much as 50% if the right preventative measures are taken involving frequent use of moisturisers.
What can Nøie do?
Among users who have reported being affected by eczema and have been diagnosed by a dermatologist, Nøie has generated results for 78% of them after only 30 days, which is impressively high for moisturisers. But we also accept our products’ limitations, which means you should view us as a supplementary treatment — not as a substitution for what your healthcare practitioner might have prescribed for you.
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