What is Eczema?
Eczema is a chronic skin condition surrounded by many misconceptions and quite a lot of misinformation. The truth of the matter is that eczema has a lot of conflicting misinformation as a result of many, many misunderstandings, but eczema itself is a relatively simple disease.
Eczema is not a specific distinct condition. There are multiple conditions underlying a common set of symptoms that is known as eczema. The causes of eczema are plural and distinct, but they all tend to result in the same common set of symptoms, primarily dryness, weakness and flaking of the skin in affected areas. Eczema is frequently very itchy, which can lead individuals to scratch, which can worsen the condition. Eczema of certain origins can spread to the rest of the skin, worsening the severity of the case overall.
Eczema is commonly thought of as an aesthetic condition, but there are health concerns associated with it, ignoring the irritation. In addition to the irritation that eczema results in, which can be quite distracting, the falling away of dead skin has a tendency to be something of a burden for eczema sufferers. Individuals suffering from severe eczema are sometimes marginalized or ostracized to some extent in social situations, which can lead to eczema having a strong psychological impact in addition to what it can do to the skin.
Eczema symptoms may manifest in disparate areas of the body on a case-to-case basis. Some individuals will suffer from eczema only on their hands, for instance, while others will have it begin on their hands and then spread to their arms (or vice-versa, spreading from their arms to their hands). Others will suffer from eczema of the scalp or face, only to have it spread from there to the neck (or, again, from the neck to the face or the neck to the scalp). Eczema is somewhat less common on the trunk. The more common forms of eczema tend to gravitate toward areas that are attached to joints—the backs of the knees, under the arms, under the buttocks, around the neck, and other areas of high skin elasticity. This is where the rashes that can result from eczema have a tendency to be most noticeable, and where resulting lesions have the hardest time healing. Eczema breakouts in these areas can restrict one’s ability to work greatly.
Who gets Eczema?
There are many different types of eczema in existence, and the vast majority of them do not discriminate in any way. Individuals of all walks of life are for the most part equally as likely to suffer from eczema, but there are a number of factors that can influence it and cause it to become somewhat more likely in specific individuals (rather than global groups) and in individuals suffering from other diseases or related health conditions.
The more common forms of eczema carry with them a distinct hereditary component. Simply put, parents who suffer from eczema are far more likely to give birth to children who also suffer from eczema. This holds especially true for atopic eczema, which is perhaps the most common form.
Climatological factors are frequently a common indicator of eczema. Eczema is far more likely to occur in cold and dry climates, especially among those that have no choice but to be exposed to those cold and dry climates on a regular basis.
What causes Eczema?
Different forms of eczema have different causes. The most common form of eczema is atopic eczema, which carries a primarily genetic component and cannot be said to have any other external cause; individuals are simply ‘born with it’, and it may even present in infancy. Symptoms will persist following this, and the only measures that can be taken are preventative. However, there are other forms of eczema as well. Simply put, parents that suffer from eczema are far more likely to have children that suffer from eczema as well, in particular atopic eczema.
Allergic contact dermatitis and irritant contact dermatitis can become forms of eczema when they are severe enough. In this case, persistent contact dermatitis of either form, when untreated, can eventually result in localized eczema. Generally speaking, these cases of eczema will not persist after the individual patches of affected skin have begun exhibiting symptoms.
For the most part, eczema does not discriminate. That said, certain individual traits that can apply to different individuals may pitch eczema breakouts to be more likely. Chief among these is an inherent dryness of skin. While men and women are strictly speaking equally likely to suffer from eczema (that is to say, there is no component that specifically makes men or women more likely to suffer from it because they are men or women), women have a tendency to suffer from dry skin more frequently.
Individuals in drier climates are far more likely to suffer from eczema. Cold and dry climates are the absolute worst, with hot and dry being a close second. Hot and wet climates are not exceptionally good, but cold damp climates and generally temperate climates have a tendency to be the best.
What does Eczema cause?
Different forms of eczema tend to carry different symptoms, but there are a few central symptoms that have a tendency to be present in every case of eczema. It is these symptoms maintained as a chronic ailment that differentiate eczema from other forms of skin disease, and these underlying staples of eczema have a tendency to be the hardest to treat as well.
The first and foremost symptom of eczema is dry, flaking skin. This may sound like a rather mundane symptom that should not have much impact on one’s overall health and wellness, but it is important to remember that eczema is a chronic condition. The skin stays dry and will continue to flake indefinitely if left unchecked. This can cause a host of troublesome symptoms in and of itself. Itching is prevalent in almost all cases of eczema. This itching can frequently lead to excoriation (scratching) of the skin, which subsequently can worsen the condition and lead to secondary symptoms and infection. The flaking away of the skin can lead to further forms of irritation, both in the literal sense, in that the skin will suffer from irritation and swelling, and in the sense of psychological aggravation.
One of the greatest impacts of eczema is psychological. The flaking away of skin can be quite unsightly, especially for forms of eczema that gravitate toward breaking out on and around the scalp. This can result in a certain degree of distress as one contends both with their skin being damaged as well as how this affects their appearance. Skin flakes in the hair are frequently mistaken as a sign of bad hygiene, when in reality they may have formed as a result of eczema within the course of the day (when the individual afflicted may shower daily). Skin flaking away from the hands and arms and trunk is frequently mistaken for more serious conditions, or mistaken for contagious. Some even erroneously link eczema and such nearly-dead illnesses as leprosy, and shun those suffering from eczema as though this will prevent the ailment from spreading. Of course, the truth is nothing like this, but this is an example of how very insidious cases of eczema can be among individuals unfamiliar with it.
More severe cases of eczema can cause blistering and bleeding where large quantities of skin have flaked away, and eczema may worsen over time if affected areas should spread. These blisterings and bleedings are prone to infection, much in the way badly excoriated acne and other damaged skin is. These secondary infections are not common, but they are a very possible consequence of eczema that is not properly treated and managed.
How serious is Eczema?
Eczema is a reasonably serious condition, simply because it is a chronic one. Eczema does not go away. It cannot be cured; it must be managed. As a consequence of this it is significantly more serious than most forms of dermatitis, which are simple reactions that can be easily managed by avoiding a single substance or circumstance. Eczema is a far more tenacious than any of these, and must be treated appropriately.
Different forms of eczema can be more or less severe. In general, the more common forms of eczema are also significantly less serious and their symptoms will likely have a much lower impact on one’s overall health. Most forms of eczema do not pose a direct risk to one’s life, but they can complicate other conditions quite readily and interfere with one’s ability to work. More serious forms of eczema are usually more generalized, covering more of the skin regardless of any individual stimuli to trigger it, and will additionally be more severe, causing more significant irritation and distress.
What does Eczema treatment look like?
Eczema treatment varies a little depending upon the nature of the specific symptoms, the location of their presentation, and their overall severity. The majority of eczema treatment is either preventative or symptomatic; curing eczema is not presently possible. In fact, the defining signature of eczema is its nature as a chronic condition. Thus, any treatment claiming to cure eczema for good is subject to requirements of extraordinary evidence—that said, there’s a lot that can be done to treat the symptoms and isolate the damage they can do.
The primary preventative treatments for most forms of eczema revolve around maintaining the elasticity of the skin and keeping it from drying out. This is generally accomplished with liberal application of moisturizer. Care must be taken to distinguish moisturizing lotions from other forms; an unscented moisturizer is generally the best option, even if it is a generic brand. Scented lotions are not necessarily the best option, as they do not frequently improve the elasticity or the hydration of the skin at all—they may, in fact, actually dry the skin out upon evaporation. Cocoa butter is an excellent ingredient to watch for in moisturizers, as it has been demonstrated time and time again to improve the elasticity of skin (this is why it is frequently recommended for pregnant women and others that are at risk for stretch marks).
Following lotion is proper exfoliation. ‘Proper’ exfoliation, in this case, means a gentle sloughing away of dead skin, not scrubbing the skin raw (which is a common misconception—more is not always better). Maintaining a regimen of exfoliation can keep dead skin clear of healthy skin. This does not do much to actually prevent eczema, but it does significantly reduce irritation of the skin. Dead skin can build up over time and even form plaques of a sort if unchecked, and the subsequent irritation can cause significant damage to the skin and provoke breakouts of eczema.
It is important that these steps be taken as augmentations to pre-existing regimens of hygiene. This makes them much easier to remember and helps them to be performed on a regular basis, which is key. Eczema is a chronic condition. Even if the symptoms are not presenting themselves at a given moment, the ailment is still there. It could be thought of as existing in the background, simply waiting to present itself again. Because eczema is a chronic (constant) condition, ‘chronic’ treatment—that is, a treatment regimen that does not let up—is necessary. This will do far, far more than simply treating the symptoms as they should present themselves.
Other treatment options are dependent upon the case of eczema in question. For instance, forms of eczema that are triggered by cold and dry air can be treated with moisturizer, but can also be treated by keeping the affected areas of skin warm. Blistering and bleeding that may result from severe eczema can be treated appropriately as necessary, and may require some form of disinfectant treatment to prevent subsequent infection.
As with many skin conditions, water intake is a nearly always-beneficial form of treatment that can greatly help the health of the entire skin in nearly all senses. While water intake is of course not enough to eliminate eczema symptoms forever, it can most definitely make a huge impact on the overall health of the skin and improve one’s situation greatly.
How do I know if I have Eczema?
Eczema is a fairly distinct condition. The primary descriptor of eczema versus other similar dermatitis conditions is its chronic nature. Eczema is by definition a chronic condition, the symptoms of which may grow worse or wane, or even vanish completely, that will always recur after a period of remission. Diagnosis of various sorts of eczema is a procedure to be carried out by a medical professional, and no one else.
Eczema is generally identified by its longevity and its symptoms simultaneously, but this is not always quite enough to distinguish it from other forms of dermatitis. In this instance, a biopsy of the skin may be performed to determine whether or not the disease at hand can be identified as eczema.