Healthy Living

Eczema: The Top 10 Questions

1 Is eczema a disease?

Eczema is not a single health condition. It is a reaction pattern that is seen in several diseases. Eczema is derived from the Greek word “ekzein”, which means “to boil”. The term “eczema” is given to medical conditions that cause your skin to become irritated and inflamed, but no, it is not a separate disease. There are several conditions that produce eczema and some of the most common conditions include atopic dermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis, irritant dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, stasis dermatitis, and scabies infection.

Eczema is quite a common condition. It affects about 10-20 percent of infants and 3 percent of adults and children in the USA. Eczema can affect anyone, but it is more common among infants and children.

Eczema appears as red, tiny blisters that are filled with a clear fluid. These blisters can break and the fluid will ooze out. However, the appearance of eczema varies from person-to-person depending on its severity. In mild cases of eczema, the skin may be red, dry, scaly, and itchy. However, in more severe cases, the fluid-filled blisters will rupture resulting in oozing out of fluid, leading to infections. The oozing out of fluid from the blisters is known as the "weeping of skin", which may be also associated with crusting and bleeding.

2 Is eczema hereditary?

The exact cause of eczema is not known, but we do know that the development of eczema is a result of both genetic and environmental factors. So, yes, eczema has a genetic link and is, therefore, hereditary. However, this genetic link is not that simple to understand because eczema is not caused by just only one gene; it is caused by a combination of genes. This explains why various triggering factors can result in eczema. These triggers may vary from a certain type of food to simple stress.

Since eczema is a result of a combination of genes, it will not necessarily affect all of your children and will not always be passed down to each generation. Two parents who had eczema since childhood may have children with completely normal skin and two parents who had completely normal skin may have children who develop eczema in their infancy or childhood. So just because you have eczema, it does not mean that your child will definitely be affected. There is a probability of your child developing eczema but it is not absolute.

Researchers have found out that a genetic mutation in a gene known as filaggrinplays a major role in the development of eczema. In a normal non-mutated filaggrin, the gene maintains the skin barrier, whereas, in a mutated filaggrin, the gene can give rise to dry skin or eczema. Nearly 50 percent of eczema cases have been shown to have this mutation of the filaggrin gene.

So yes, eczema is hereditary, but it does not mean that it will necessarily cause eczema in your children. Your child has to get the right combination of the genes to develop such condition. For this reason, it is hard to say if your child will definitely develop eczema. You will only know for sure when your child gets the condition.

As of now, this hereditary component of eczema is not clearly understood, but with time, new research will be done and this aspect may be made clearer in the future.

Is eczema contagious?

People often tend to believe that all skin conditions are contagious. However, it is not true. Eczema is not a condition that can be passed from one person to another just by close contact. Neither can you catch it from someone like in the case of a common cold or flu. The exact cause of eczema is not known, but we now know that genetics play a large role in the development of eczema.

Eczema is not contagious. However, the irritated eczematous skin can get infected with certain microorganisms, and this infection can be contagious to others around you. However, eczema alone is not contagious.

3 Does eczema go away?

It depends. Most young children with eczema outgrow the condition as they grow older. Moreover, the severity of their eczema may lessen as they grow, but in others, the condition can persist throughout the rest of their lives. However, it is possible for eczema flare-ups to occur every now and then, especially if the individual is exposed to a certain type of irritant or triggering factor.

Several studies have shown that nearly 60 percent of individuals with eczema improve by the time when they reach the age of six. It was also found out that a certain percentage of individuals with eczema may continue to progress from the condition and develop atopy, food allergies, allergic rhinitis, and asthma as they grow older. Such disease progression is known as the "atopic march".

If you have found out the exact cause of your eczema, then eliminating that cause can completely cure your condition. However, the problem is that most of the time, the exact cause of eczema is unknown. If you have identified certain foods, specific temperature, or stressors that can make your eczema worse, then it is best that you stay away from them to reduce one's flare-ups.

4 Can you get eczema when you're older?

Yes, you can develop eczema when you are older. However, it is both underreported and not recognized very often. Eczema is most commonly seen among infants and young children, but adult onset eczemas also occur. Adult onset eczema refers to eczema that occurs after the age of 18 years.

Just like eczema that is seen among infants and children, adult onset eczema is a chronic inflammatory condition that shows varying symptoms, which have mild to severe intensities. The exact cause of adult onset eczema is not known, but what we know is that there is some contribution of genetic, environmental, and immunological factors. Adult onset eczema may show an atypical presentation compared to infant or childhood eczema. In adults, dermatitis of the hands and eczema on the face may dominate.

Eczema in adults is very unpredictable because you will never know when you might develop the condition, and if you do have the condition, you may suddenly develop flare-ups. Moreover, you may unusually even go into remission all of a sudden.

5 How do you stop yourself from itching if you have eczema?

Itching in eczema is unbearable, and you know, if you scratch the affected area, it will only make your skin worse. So here are a few ways that can stop you from itching and allow your skin to heal faster:

  • Apply a moisturizing cream on the affected skin areas

Moisturizing is one of the initial steps in the management of eczema. The main point of this treatment is to keep your skin frequently moisturized, especially soon after a wash or bath. An unscented moisturizer is the best to use as scented ones are made with additives that can irritate sensitive skin. For better protection, you can use a thicker ointment such as petroleum jelly. Since ointments consist of more oil than water, they are more effective than creams and lotions.

How does moisturizing help? Several studies have found that our skin consists of small gaps in between the cells that allow allergens to enter the body. Moisturizers will fill out these gaps and prevent the entry of these allergens.

  • Cover the affected areas of skin with wet bandages

Many mothers have found that covering the affected areas prevents the children from itching. After washing your child, dry the area with a dry towel and apply moisturizing oil in the affected areas. After applying the moisturizer, moisten a piece of clean gauze and wrap it around the affected skin area. To keep the moist for longer, cover the wet bandage with a dry bandage or towel and leave it overnight.

  • Keep your child’s fingernails short

Cut your child’s fingernails to reduce the damage caused by itching.

  • Put on gloves to your child’s hands if scratching at night is a problem.
  • Consult a doctor and get treated for eczema.

The treatment given for eczema will not only control the rash, but it will also relieve the itching.

6 How often should you shower if you have eczema?

If you have eczema, then frequent showers using lukewarm water are good. A nice warm bath will keep you comfortable. You can also use a suitable bath oil, but try to avoid scented bath oils as they are made with additives that can further irritate your skin and make your eczema worse.

Also keep in mind that you should avoid bathing in very hot water, as high temperatures can damage your skin. Hence, try using warm water and a hypoallergenic and unscented shower gel or soap.

After showering, use a soft towel to dry your skin. Avoid using a rough towel and also avoid roughly wiping your skin as this can also irritate your skin, making your eczema worse.

Frequently wash your towels and clothes with scent-free and allergen-free detergents. To make you even more comfortable, apply some moisturizing oil on your skin after a shower.

7 What is dyshidrotic eczema?

Dyshidrotic eczema, also known as dyshidrosis, is a type of an eczematous skin condition where blisters appear on the soles, palms, and fingers. These blisters are filled with fluid and are itchy. They usually last for about two to four weeks and is often related to certain allergies and stress. It commonly affects teenagers and adults. Dyshidrotic eczema can be acute, recurrent, or chronic.

The exact cause of this condition is not yet known. However, experts believe that it could be due to seasonal allergies such as hay fever. Therefore, during the spring, blisters may develop and erupt more frequently. Stress and allergies are can increase the risk of having dyshidrotic eczema. If your hands and feet are frequently kept moist in water and are exposed to metals such as chromium, nickel, and cobalt, you are most likely to be at risk of developing severe dyshidrotic eczema.

This condition is characterized by the development of painful blisters on the fingers, toes, hands, and feet. These blisters are very itchy and may cause the skin to peel off. These blisters may persist for three weeks and then dry up leading to painful cracking of the skin.

8 What is nummular eczema?

Nummular eczema is also called as "nummular dermatitis" or "discoid eczema". It is a chronic condition that results in the development of coin-shaped rashes on the skin that are well defined and itchy. They may rupture leading to the oozing out of fluid or can become dry and crusty over time. Nummular eczema often precedes a skin injury such as abrasions, insect bites, or burns. This condition is more common among males with ages between 55-65 years old. Women can also develop this condition during their adolescence and adulthood. The exact cause of nummular eczema is still unknown. However, it has been found out that it is more commonly seen among people who have a history of allergies, atopic dermatitis, and asthma. It is a treatable condition with drugs and topical medicines.

9 What causes facial eczema?

Facial eczema is something that no one wants to have. It may be distressing since your face will be exposed for everyone to see. Facial eczema has a similar appearance with eczema that occurs in other areas of the body. It also exhibits redness, dryness, and cracking of the skin. Facial eczema can be caused by generalized eczema or can be just localized to the face. The usual cause of facial eczema in both adults and children is atopic eczema, which is also known as atopic dermatitis.

Other types of eczema that may have a facial involvement include seborrheic eczema, irritant contact eczema, allergic contact eczema, and light-sensitive eczema.