The term ‘eczema’ is applied to a wide range of skin disorders, but in general terms it is an inflammatory condition of the skin that is characterized by redness, swelling, itching and dryness. The condition may be mild or extreme, and is now thought to be related to the body’s immune system and to have a hereditary component.
There are many forms of eczema, but the most common is known as atopic eczema. This form of the disease, according to current research, affects about one out of ten people worldwide. The precise cause is not known, but there is a definite correlation to other skin disorders such as allergies to certain foods or substances.
Though usually occurring at flexing joints such as the inside of elbows and backs of knees and on the face and scalp, eczema can be found anywhere on the body. The first symptom is often a hot, itchy feeling on the skin, and the first reaction is to scratch the itch.
This leads almost inevitably to reddening and inflammation, with skin flaking and becoming coarse and leathery over a period of time. Many symptoms of eczema are very difficult to distinguish from those of other medical disorders, so a physician’s analysis is desirable and prudent.
In order to reduce the likelihood of eczema flare-ups that can cause severe discomfort, it is recommended by most specialists that an examination including a medical history be done to determine what “triggers” may exist for each individual. In some cases the patient’s system reacts to certain elements in household products such as soap or perfume. In others the catalyst may be specific foods, certain fabrics or even dust; the possible irritants are as varied as the makeup of the human body.
Another factor that has become widely acknowledged as a cause of eczema outbreaks is stress. Most cases of the ailment begin in infancy, and indeed a large proportion of those diagnosed with eczema in early years actually grow out of it as they get older. For the many who still suffer as adults, stress is a major culprit in the outbreak or worsening of the condition.
There are various treatments for eczema, ranging from moisturizing lotions to antihistamines and corticosteroids, immunosuppressant drugs and ultraviolet light therapy, to name but a few. The symptoms can usually be controlled or minimized, though no ultimate cure is known at this time.