Eczema Awareness Week is coming up later this month (16 to 24 September) so we've enlisted the help of Consultant Dermatologist Dr Anthony Bewley FRCP who shares everything we need to know about the condition from symptoms to diagnosis to treatments.
WHAT IS ECZEMA?
Atopic Dermatitis, which is more commonly known as eczema, is an inflammatory condition of the skin and may cause redness, skin-cracking, blistering, and pigmentation.
Eczema can affect anyone but is more common in babies in the first few weeks or months of their life and affects at least 10% of children at some stage. It is usually a long-term condition although some children grow out of it as they near the end of childhood.
Eczema can affect any part of the body but it is most often found around areas that get sweaty like the backs of the knees and inside the elbow, or areas that are exposed to the harsh weather like face, scalp and hands.
If you think you have eczema, I would recommend you go and visit your GP or pharmacist. They'll usually be able to diagnose the condition by looking at your skin but may refer you to a dermatologist if you need more specialist treatment. To get further information into your condition, they'll usually ask the following questions so it's good to come prepared if possible.
• Is the rash itchy and where is it on your body?
• When did you first notice symptoms?
• Does it come and go over time?
• Have any recent lifestyle or diet changes caused the condition?
• Is there a history of eczema in your family?
• Do you have any other conditions like such as allergies or asthma?
GET TO KNOW YOUR TRIGGERS
In addition to the above, your Healthcare Professional (GP, Pharmacist, and Dermatologist etc.) will want to know your skin triggers and what may cause flare-ups, which are periods when symptoms are less noticeable and periods when symptoms become more severe.
As eczema is such a wide and complex condition, the causes of these flare-ups vary from person to person but here are four simple steps which can help identify triggers in the first instance:
1. Soaps and perfumes - Some people with dry skin or eczema may find their skin is easily irritated by harsh and strong ingredients in soaps, fragrances and washing detergent.
2. Temperature control - Those with sensitive and eczema prone skin may need to be careful when spending time in extreme hot or cold temperatures. The sun can aggravate eczema and while the cold conditions can drain your skin's moisture, leaving your skin feeling dry and possibly red.
3. Don't sweat it - For many people with dry skin, sweat can irritate and aggravate the skin, causing itching. While it's not possible to stop sweating, remember to shower in warm water as soon as possible after sweating or exercise to minimise the chance of flare-ups.
4. Reduce dust - House dust mites are present in everyone's home and can irritate dry skin and eczema. If you can, hoover and dust your home 2 to 3 times a week. Wherever possible, wash clothes on a hot temperature (above 60 degrees) to kill the house dust mite too. You could also try an anti-allergy mattress cover and pillow protectors.
5. Keep a skin diary to spot your triggers - Finally, I would suggest all patients keep a skin diary as a way to track your skin condition, note the effects the above has and see how your skin improves over time. Is it worse in the Summer or Winter? Have you recently changed your washing powder? Have you started going to the gym more regularly?
Eczema can be really difficult to live with - it is a hugely complex condition with hundreds of different factors causing flare-ups and can have a huge effect on your personal self-esteem. If you have recently been diagnosed with the condition or are just looking for some additional help there are some of online advice tools that can help by providing you with free daily advice to help manage your condition.
Currently there is no cure for eczema but there are several treatment options available which may help relieve the symptoms and reduce the significant impact the condition can have on your life - both physically and mentally.
Your GP or Dermatologist will prescribe the best treatment for you based on your condition and these may include:
• Self care techniques such as gloves to reduce scratching and avoiding triggers
• Using an emollient on a daily basis to soothe and moisturise
• Reduce swelling, redness and itching during severe flare ups by using a topical corticosteroids prescribed by your doctor.
As always, if you or someone you know may be suffering from eczema you should always go and visit your GP or pharmacist.
You can sign up for a free online programme called 'Start from Scratch' to receive holistic, expert led advice about managing their eczema or problematic dry-skin. It was developed by a panel of experts via a partnership between leading emollient brand Cetraben and the British Skin Foundation and each recipient will receive an email once a week for six weeks, with each email providing health and lifestyle advice to help them manage their skin. The topics include; 'achieving better sleep', 'breaking the itch-scratch-itch cycle' and 'getting the most from your emollient'.
Register now by visiting the Cetraben website or www.start-from-scratch.co.uk.