Whether your physician says that your child has eczema or Atopic Dermatitis, you will need to know more. It is important for you to know and understand the disease, its symptoms, causes, treatments, and what can be done at home. It is important to know that the disease is not contagious.
Eczema is often used as a synonym for Atopic Dermatitis, even though it is a general term which covers any inflammation of the skin. Neither race nor gender has any correlation with the disease, which affects 10% of people worldwide. Instead, a combination of environment and heredity tend to be the culprits causing the disease.
Eczema is characterized by skin that is scaly, dry, inflamed, and itchy. It is possible for the affected areas to form blisters which break open, becoming open sores. Scratching does not alleviate the itchiness; rather it becomes worse and can be the cause of the open sores. Determining factors for diagnosis include:
Age, Eczema symptoms usually begin to manifest in early childhood, especially infancy.
Location, Eczema is usually found on the face, behind the knees, and on the inside of the elbows. It can affect other parts of the body as well, such as hands, feet, or scalp.
Appearance, the skin is usually scaly and dry, but the disease can look different from one person to the next. Skin can have open sores, tiny blisters, or thickening.
Heredity, Children who have a genetic history of asthma, eczema, or hay fever are more likely to have it than others.
Too many inflammation producing cells are released into the skin when an affected person comes in contact with a trigger. Triggers include: various environmental factors, having too mush stress, or having an infection. This release of cells is a normal bodily reaction, but in eczema patients the cells continue to be released even after the trigger is gone.
What kinds of things make symptoms worse and what can I do?
The different things that set off a flare up (worsening of symptoms) are called triggers and are different for everyone. Different triggers include:
Allergens, These may be food related or airborne. Airborne allergens can be dust, pets, and pollen among other things. Avoiding allergens (possibly having your pediatrician prescribe allergy medication) will help reduce eczema flare ups.
Dry skin, People who have eczema have to keep plenty of moisturizer on their skin because their skin does not moisturize itself like it is supposed to. To help avoid this, use plenty of moisturizer; apply in the morning, at night, after bathing, and during the day when dryness causes itching. Do not use lotions as they have ingredients that can actually cause further drying. Creams with a petroleum jelly base provide the most relief. These should be applied to wet skin.
Infection, Infections from breaks in the skin (often due to scratching) often trigger flare ups. Keep nails cut short and wash with anti bacterial soap regularly (do not forget to moisturize,as described above, afterward).
Irritants, Man made products that irritate the skin when your child comes in contact with them. Try to not let your child come in contact with chemicals that irritate his skin.
Stress, It has not been determined why, but stress often precludes a flare up. A good support network is important, as is learning stress management techniques. Make sure your child knows about and understands his eczema.
Sweating, Sweat tends to irritate the skin of eczema patients. Bath as soon after sweating as possible, remembering to moisturize, as described above.
Temperatures, Extreme heat or cold as well as sudden temperature changes can affect eczema.
What kind of treatments can I expect?
It is important to realize that eczema has no cure. Treatments will alleviate the symptoms, but they will not make the disease go away permanently. Eczema is considered a chronic disease, meaning that it is incurable and it is very long term. Some children seem to outgrow eczema, but often they are actually just in remission for a number of years.
Topical medications, Often the pediatrician or dermatologist will prescribe corticosteroid medications that are applied several times daily. Be sure to apply these exactly as your doctor prescribes. Too few applications or inadequately spaced (in terms of time) applications will not help relieve the symptoms. Likewise, applying too often can cause other problems, such as thin skin and stretch marks.
Antibiotics, Any skin infections may require antibiotics to destroy the bacteria that are causing skin irritation.
Allergy medications, For airborne allergy triggers, your child may have to take an antihistamine regularly.