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What is Eczema?

Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is a hereditary and chronic skin disorder that causes the skin to itch, turn red, and flake. Eczema is very common. More than 15 million American adults and children have eczema. The Academy of Dermatology estimates that up to 20% of infants and children experience symptoms of eczema. Of children who have eczema, most will show signs of eczema in the first year of life and 90% will show signs of eczema within the first five years.

Eczema mostly affects infants or very young children. Most children outgrow eczema, but in some cases, it may recur in the teenage years or in adulthood. It then becomes chronic dermatitis. If one or both parents had eczema, there is a good chance their child will, too. Children are also more likely to have eczema when there is asthma, allergy, hay fever, or a food allergy in the family. Research also has found a possible link between exposure to antibiotics as an infant and an increased risk for eczema and asthma in childhood.

Researchers don't know the exact cause, but many factors can make eczema worse, including environmental irritants and allergies. The condition tends to flare up during times of stress, when outdoor temperatures change abruptly, in low humidity environments, when the temperature is extremely high or low, when the patient has a bacterial infection, or when the skin is irritated by wool, other fabrics or detergents.

What are the Symptoms of Eczema?

Atopic eczema usually starts in the first months of life but it may also develop for the first time in adulthood. The main symptom is itch. Scratching in response to itch may cause many of the changes seen on the skin. The itch can be severe enough to interfere with sleep, causing tiredness and irritability. This can have an enormous impact on the whole family. Typically it goes through phases of being severe, then less severe and then worse again.

Fact #1

About 20 percent of children and one-three percent of the adult population all over the world have eczema. People who live in developed countries or places with cold climates seem to be more prone to developing eczema.

Fact #2

A lot more people have eczema today than 30 years ago. Researchers are not sure why but, there are some predisposing factors that make children at risk for developing eczema. One of the strongest risk factor for children is having a parent with any of the three: eczema, asthma or allergic rhinitis.

Fact #3

Certain foods can make eczema worse. Common ones include milk and milk products, nuts, and shellfish. However, before eliminating any type of food in a child's diet, you should check with your doctor. Some foods are important for proper growth and development.

Fact #4

About 90 percent of individuals with eczema get it under the age of five years old. Around half of individuals who had eczema as a child continue to have mild eczema as adults.

There is no cure for eczema. The goals of treatment are to reduce itching and inflammation of the skin, moisturize the skin, and prevent infection. So, you could follow common recommendations to manage the condition include avoiding contact with irritants, not using harsh soap, and taking brief baths or showers using lukewarm water, in order to make your life a little easier.