Eczema – a beginner’s guide (part 1)

 

What is Eczema?

Eczema, also know as atopic dermatitis, is a recurring, non-infectious, inflammatory skin condition affecting one in three Australasians at some stage in their lives. The condition is most common in people with a family history of an atopic disorder such as asthma or hay fever (Eczema Association of Australasia, 2013).

Atopic eczema is the most common form of eczema. The skin becomes red, dry, itchy and scaly. In severe cases, the skin may weep, bleed and crust over. The skin may also become infected.

Eczema can affect all age groups; usually occurring initially in early childhood (babies between 2-12 months). According to some studies eczema often disappears around six years of age. The Eczema Association of Australasia states that more than half of all eczema sufferers show signs within the first twelve months of life and 20% of people develop eczema before the age of five.

In America, the lifetime prevalence of eczema has been reported at 20% in children between 3 and 11 years old.

Most children grow out of the condition, but some may experience eczema into adulthood. The condition has potentially wide ranging impacts. It affects not only the sufferer, but also their family and friends. There is a financial as well as physical and emotional cost to this condition.

If eczema is so common and has wide reaching impacts on individuals and the community, then what causes it and how can we manage it??

What causes Eczema?

The exact cause of eczema is unknown, though studies continue to be conducted in this area. The Eczema Association of Australasia identifies a number of links between eczema and internal and external factors. Remember, a link does not necessarily mean a cause, however, it may lead us to methods to help manage eczema – which is great news!

Internal factors:

  • Family history of eczema, asthma or hay fever (if both parents have eczema, there is an 80% chance the child may develop eczema);
  • Some foods and alcohol such as dairy, wheat products citrus fruits, eggs, nuts, seafood, chemical food additives, preservatives and colourings, naturally occurring chemicals;
  • Physical and emotional stress.

External factors:

  • Irritants such as tobacco smoke, chemicals, weather (heat, humidity, cold or dry conditions), air conditioning and heating;
  • Allergens such as dust mites, moulds, grasses, plant pollens, foods, pets, clothing, soaps, shampoos and washing.

Note: Allergens may present as an allergic reaction or as an intolerance. There will be more detail on the subject of allergy and intolerance later.

 

These internal and external factors provide the key towards effective eczema management. Join me in the next blog in the Eczema – a beginner’s guide series:

 

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Kellie Moule is a writer based in Brisbane. She has previously practiced as an exercise physiologist and has a special interest in eczema, allergies and intolerances.