Often misconstrued as a childhood disease, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Skin Diseases estimates that up to 60% of eczema sufferers experience symptoms into adulthood. Atopic dermatitis, the most common form of eczema, is characterized by chronic, itchy inflamed skin and affects millions of people worldwide. (For further reading about causes of dermatitis and treatments, explore our dermatitis home page.) Usually seen first as an inflamed, red and itchy area on the backside of the knee or in the crease of the elbow, eczema can manifest nearly anywhere on the body, including the face, arms and hands. Affected areas can also produce blisters, ooze, or become scaly, brown and thickened.
EczemaAs with numerous other skin conditions, the precise cause of eczema remains unknown, but many scientists believe that the origins of eczema are genetic. Because of the visible chronic rash and blisters that often plague eczema patients, there are a number of misconceptions surrounding the disease. Eczema is not contagious; nor is it caused by poor hygiene. There is also a bit of confusion surrounding the condition and the effect of allergens upon it. Although not the cause, those suffering from eczema are more likely to be susceptible to allergies, including food and airborne, as well as being more prone to developing asthma. Sadly, allergies are often triggers for an eczema flare-up.
There is no cure for eczema as of yet, but certain measures can be taken to alleviate the discomfort of the condition. In addition to recommending their eczema patients to keep their skin moisturized and avoid irritants, doctors may prescribe corticosteroids in either pill or topical cream. Antihistamines are often given to combat discomfort caused by persistent itching. Some people with extreme cases of eczema have found relief with the use of ultraviolet light therapy. Eczema patients should meet with their dermatologists frequently to discuss any changes in their condition and to stay informed of any new treatments as they become available. While many common treatments can be costly and may have severe side effects, many sufferers report great success with diet and lifestyle changes that not only assist in reducing the frequency and severity of eczema outbreaks, but can greatly benefit the entire body!
Patients with skin conditions such as eczema, rosacea, and psoriasis are often asked to keep a diary of events and habits to identify patterns and factors that may be causing their condition to flare up. Many eczema sufferers find they are extremely sensitive to different foods, such as dairy, wheat and sugar, as well as to the preservatives and additives found in processed foods. Elizabeth Lipski, PhD, CCN, author of Digestive Wellness, suggests eliminating all processed foods as well as any that have been shown to trigger a reaction from the diet. She also encourages an annual detoxification regimen for most individuals, in order to cleanse the system of accumulated toxins. Supplements containing omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and vitamins D and A have also been shown to assist healing in some individuals afflicted with eczema.
While some flare-ups are caused by diet, others may be related to temperature variations. Since heat is frequently a cause of increased discomfort, eczema patients should try to wear breathable clothing such as cotton whenever possible. Sufferers living in colder climates need to take precautions as well. Cold air can be extremely drying to the skin, and patients need to apply extra moisture to areas exposed to the elements during the winter months.
As difficult as it may seem, especially with the itchy patches and bumps associated with eczema, individuals should try not to scratch the afflicted areas. Scratching can only lead to increased irritation, and may cause the skin to thicken and become almost leathery in appearance over time. One of the best protections against an eczema outbreak is moisture. During a flare-up, the protective outer layer of skin dries and cracks, which allows irritants to infiltrate the deeper layers of the skin, causing increased discomfort and itching. Because those suffering from eczema are prone to dry skin, it is of the utmost importance to keep skin moisturized. In order to increase moisture in the skin, people with eczema can take a brief shower, gently wash with mild soap, lightly towel dry, then immediately apply moisturizer while the skin is still damp.
Putting It Together and Finding Your Eczema Solution
While a cure is still a goal yet to be realized, there are many natural options that can help the juvenile or adult eczema sufferer take part in managing—often reducing—the severity of the condition. A combination approach that includes identifying a healthy meal plan and avoiding dietary triggers, together with the use of natural herbs and other nutritional supplements, topical gels or ointments, and stress-reducing techniques are all ways to naturally reduce discomforting symptoms of eczema.