It’s the itch you can’t help but scratch: eczema. Eczema is a common skin condition caused by inflammation that can appear anywhere on the body, including the face, neck, hands, legs, elbows, and knees. While anyone can develop eczema, even many adults, it is most commonly found in children. Infants who have the condition typically outgrow it by adulthood, but for some people it can be chronic, with flare-ups occurring periodically. Chronic eczema is sometimes called atopic dermatitis. While there are many different types – atopic dermatitis, contact dermatitis, stasis dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, dyshidrotic eczema, nummular eczema – all of these cause the skin to become itchy and inflamed, along with any or all of the following symptoms:
- The first and most common sign of eczema is dry, red, and itchy skin. A rash may erupt, or open sores may form on the affected area if repeatedly scratched. Patches of chronically dry and itchy skin may linger.
- Other symptoms may include: Red and inflamed skin; dark patches; leathery or scaly areas of skin; areas of swelling; and oozing or crusting sores.
- In more severe cases, skin itchiness and sores can cause deep cracks and fissures to form on the skin, due to repeated scratching.
For children, the first symptoms typically appear around the elbows and behind the knee creases. Not everyone with the condition will experience the same signs, and flare-ups could occur on different areas of the body over time. Because of the variety of symptoms, an in-depth look at family history and pre-disposing factors is used to determine a diagnosis of eczema:
- The condition runs in families: a dermatologist will look for a family history of eczema, asthma, allergies, and hay fever. Additionally, children who have it run a higher risk of developing asthma, allergies, or hay fever in the future.
- An overactive immune system is thought to trigger eczema.
- Defects in the skin barrier that allow moisture to escape, and germs to enter, is another cause of this inflammatory skin condition.
- Allergens and environmental irritants can trigger outbreaks. Because new allergens or irritants can turn on in the body at any time, adults who never had eczema as children can develop the condition later on in life.
If eczema is the cause behind itchy and inflamed skin, a dermatologist will determine an appropriate method of treatment, which could include an oral medication, a steroid cream, or a medicated ointment to soothe skin and reduce inflammation. A flare-up can also be managed by avoiding certain environmental and synthetic factors, such as:
- Synthetic fibers;
- Harsh soaps;
- Extremely hot, cold, or dry climates;
- Dry skin; and
At-home care includes moisturizing skin regularly, avoiding very hot showers or baths, using unscented soaps and lotions designed for sensitive skin, and reducing stress. Unexplainable itching, rashes, and skin sores should always be examined by a trusted dermatologist – contact the team at Florida Dermatology and Skin Cancer Centers today to schedule an appointment.