Eczema is a chronic skin condition that can be caused by a number of different factors both internal and external. Eczema tends to affect children below the age of six primarily, but many people may suffer from recurring bouts of eczema throughout their lives. Eczema is an inflammatory condition but is not contagious and cannot be caught or transferred from one person to another. If left untreated, eczema can develop into more serious skin diseases such as herpes and impetigo.
There are different types of eczema that vary in terms of causes and symptoms. The most common type of eczema is also referred to as atopic dermatitis. In fact, these two terms are often used interchangeably. Atopic dermatitis is caused by external factors and causes scratchy inflamed red patches of skin. These attacks flare up depending on allergens and other environmental factors. Contact dermatitis or eczema is caused when the skin comes in contact with a particular allergen or irritant. Contact eczema is highly localized and if you have a history of allergies, you are more likely to contract this type of eczema.
Other types of eczema include seborrheic eczema (normally caused by dandruff). Nummular eczema results in coin-shaped patches of itchy and crusted skin. This is not a common type of eczema and is generally found in elderly men. Neurodermatitis is often caused by an insect bite that causes a skin inflammation. It can also be exacerbated by stress. Stasis dermatitis only affects the skin in the lower legs and is caused by circulation problems. Dyshidrotic eczema affects the soles of the feet and your palms. The symptoms of this type of eczema typically include the appearance of scaly, yellowish patches on the skin and the condition could in fact appear as a seasonal reaction to the weather or different allergens.
Symptoms of Eczema
Visit your doctor if you have any of the following eczema symptoms:
- Itchy skin
- Red rash on the skin
- Skin that is dry and cracked
- Weepy or crusted patches of skin
- Skin that is rough to the touch
- Lesions on the skin that can become infected
- Swelling of the face, hands and feet
- Redness of the scalp and face
- Blisters that ooze
- Peeling of lesions or blisters
- Chafed skin
- Burning sensation of the skin
- Eczema generally occurs around the face, neck, forearms, elbows, legs, behind the knees and ankles
- Eczema attacks can last for a few hours or a few days at a time
In order to properly diagnose eczema, your doctor will conduct a thorough physical examination. Several questions about the history of the condition will be asked in order to determine the factors that may be causing the disease. The symptoms of eczema are similar to reactions to certain medications or as a result of other infections, so care has to be taken while diagnosing the problem. A skin biopsy may be required to rule out any other more serious skin conditions. In case you are suffering from contact eczema, a simple patch test can be conducted to determine the specific trigger that led to the inflammation. Apart from these diagnostic tools there are no specific blood tests to conclude the presence of eczema.
Causes of Eczema
There are types of eczema that have no specific causes and may develop for no apparent reason. However, studies show that the possible causes of eczema could include:
- Allergies to certain foods such as seafood, dairy or wheat
- Allergies to certain medications
- Allergies to irritants such as cosmetics, soaps, antiperspirants, and cleaning products
- Excessive sweating
- Woolen or silk clothes
- Contact with plants such as poison oak or poison ivy
- Skin contact with substances made from nickel like jewelry or eyeglasses
- Leather and commercial dyes
- Abnormalities of the immune system
- Changes in the weather humidity tends to trigger eczema attacks in some individuals
Remedies for Eczema
The first step in treating eczema is to bring some relief to the itchy burning sensation caused by this skin condition. Itching leads to scratching, which in turn causes rough skin and infections.
- The best way to ease itching is through the application of a cold compress to the affected areas of skin. Keeping the compress on the skin for a longer period of time is more beneficial and can reduce swelling as well.
- Natural cures for eczema include the application of pastes made from oatmeal, ripe mashed bananas, honey or Aloe Vera. These natural ingredients soothe and calm irritated skin, thereby reducing the inflammation and itching.
- Oils such as lavender oil, coconut oil, castor oil and avocado oil can be mixed with bath water. Immerse the affected areas of skin into this warm water to speed up the healing process and decrease skin dryness that can cause the condition.
- Other home remedies to get rid of eczema include the use of lemon, limejuice or apple cider vinegar to decrease swelling of the skin and redness. However, care has to be taken when using lemon or vinegar as these have a tendency to dry out the skin and exacerbate the condition. Keep the area moisturized at all times to prevent this from happening.
- For hand eczema home remedies, you could mix camphor and sandalwood together to form a paste. Apply this to the palms and reddened areas of skin. You can repeat this process until the skin heals completely. Another good combination is a mix of turmeric powder and water or nutmeg powder and water.
- Pastes made of fresh fruits such as mashed mangos; bananas or strawberries are also effective home remedies for eczema in children
- For home remedies for eczema on feet, try a foot soak. Soak your feet in a tub of warm water. To the water, add a few drops of witch hazel to reduce inflammation and prevent skin peeling. Repeat this thrice a week to see visible results. Other alternatives include adding oatmeal to the water or baking soda. A half-cup of bleach used in a 40-gallon bathtub of water is another excellent treatment for eczema on the feet and all over the body.
- Apart from home remedies, the most common form of treatment for eczema remains steroid based topical creams or ointments. These creams are created to reduce inflammation and prevent further outbreaks. However, long term use of steroid based creams can be dangerous and should be used only under the supervision of your doctor or dermatologist.
Diet for Eczema
Unfortunately the two most common food culprits that can trigger an allergic eczema reaction are wheat and dairy. For many people, giving up products containing wheat and dairy is next to impossible. However, there are now several alternatives available such as gluten free products and soya milk that make changing your diet much easier. Keeping this in mind, if you do find that you are allergic to wheat or dairy you would have to eliminate certain foods like bread, pasta, milk, ice cream, cheese, and yogurt among many other items from the same food group. Other foods that could trigger an eczema attack include seafood, eggs, nuts, citrus fruits, corn, spices, honey, salty foods, caffeine, artificial preservatives and coloring, and chocolate. Most people react within an hour or two of eating a trigger food though in some cases of delayed sensitivity this reaction may not occur until 24 hours later. The first step towards changing your diet to treat eczema is to identify foods that trigger an allergic reaction. The best way to do this is to keep a detailed food journal. Soon a pattern will emerge and you can gradually start cutting out the potential problem foods.
You can also make positive additions to your daily diet. These foods help reduce inflammation and aid the healing process. Items such as flaxseed oil (one tablespoon a day) prevent dry skin and itchiness, whereas supplements such as Primrose oil contain essential fatty acids necessary to keep the skin moisturized and prevents flare-ups. Zinc is another mineral supplement that has been proven to treat eczema. Just make sure you dont consume more than 30 milligrams of zinc a day as this can cause other health problems.
Suggestions for Eczema
- When suffering an eczema attack, wear clothes that are loose and made of natural fiber such as cotton. This allows sweat to evaporate and prevents further skin irritation.
- Avoid showers and have a bath instead. Soaking in warm water is beneficial to irritable and inflamed skin.
- Avoid swimming in chlorinated pools as chlorine can aggravate the condition.
- Avoid the use of any products that you may be allergic to such as soaps and cosmetics and also try to avoid the use of harsh detergents as residue left in fabric could contribute to the problem.
- Wearing support stockings can help in cases of statis eczema as this improves blood circulation.
- In cold weather make sure that your skin is moisturized at all times. Use a humidifier in your home to reduce the risk of dryness.
- Stress and hormonal imbalances can also aggravate the problem, which is why stress reduction techniques like yoga and meditation could be helpful.
- Jackelina Pando Kelly, Jonathan Hourihane, Dietary intervention in eczema, Paediatrics and Child Health, Volume 21, Issue 9, September 2011, Pages 406-410, ISSN 1751-7222, 10.1016/j.paed.2011.05.004.
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