Eczema refers to the inflammation or irritation of the epidermis or outer layer of the skin. It is a term broadly applied to a variety of skin conditions that cause skin dryness or recurring skin rashes. Symptoms of eczema are wide-ranging and may include: redness, swelling, itching, crusting, cracking, or bleeding of the skin. Eczema is non-contagious, affects 9-30% of Americans, and is particularly common among infants and young children. Some people outgrow eczema, while others experience symptoms on and off their entire lives. Though there is no known cure for eczema, proper treatment generally controls the disease for the majority of sufferers.
Though the exact cause of eczema is unknown, it is linked to an overactive response in the body’s immune system to certain triggers. People with a history of other allergies or asthma are more likely to suffer from eczema.
Treatment for eczema aims to relieve and prevent itching, which can lead to infection. Because dry skin often makes skin itchy, applying moisturizer after bathing when skin is damp is recommended. Other treatment options include:
For mild eczema, creams and ointments such as corticosteroids are often prescribed to reduce inflammation. For severe cases, oral cortisteroids may be prescribed. When the affected area becomes infected, antibiotics may be necessary to kill the infection-causing bacteria. Anti-histamines, (anti-itch drugs), can also be effective in reducing the desire to itch and thereby eliminating the chance of infection.
- Light Therapy:
Light therapy consists of exposing the skin to ultraviolet (UV) light. UV radiation is known to suppress the immune system and reduce inflammatory responses. However, this form of therapy is risky in that it opens up the possibility of the patient contracting skin cancer from exposure to the UV rays.
- Massage Therapy:
Massages can be extremely therapeutic to patients suffering from eczema. They increase circulation to the tissues, thereby allowing the lesions and cracks in the skin to heal faster. "Hot stone" massages may be particularly effective in treating eczema, as the stones can be placed in specific areas to increase circulation.
While eczema itself cannot be prevented, outbreaks can usually be avoided or the severity lessoned by practicing simple guidelines. Patients are advised to abide by the following: moisturize skin frequently, reduce stress, avoid sweating or overeating, harsh soaps, scratchy clothing, sudden changes in temperature, and environmental triggers such as pollen, old or dust.