Atopic Eczema

Atopic eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is the most common form of eczema. The “Atopic” in atopic eczema refers to a group of diseases that are hereditary and often occur together – i.e. Asthma and hay fever(allergic rhinitis).

The most common symptom of atopic eczema is the unbearable itchiness. With this type of eczema the skin becomes extremely itchy and inflamed, causing redness, swelling, weeping and scaling. Atopic eczema can affect the skin in almost any area of the body, but most commonly affects the head, face, neck, hands, arms and behind the knees.

Atopic eczema most oftenly affects infants and young children, but it can continue into adulthood or first show up later in life. Over 6 out of 10 sufferers develop this condition before they are one year old and nine out of ten before they are five.

The cause of the condition is not known, but the disease results from a combination of hereditary and environmental factors. Most people with atopic eczema will experience times when the disease flares up, and times when the skin improves or clears up entirely. Environmental factors can bring on symptoms of the condition at any time in the lives of individuals who have inherited the atopic disease trait.

Although the cause of atopic eczema is unknown, there are many common allergens that seem to irritate the skin for most people. Allergens are substances from foods, plants or animals that inflame the skin because the immune system over reacts to the substance. Inflammation occurs even when the person is exposed to small amounts of the substance for a limited time.

Some examples of allergens that will affect individuals are wool or synthetic fibers, soaps and detergents, some perfumes, dust, pollen and some foods. In addition to these types of irritants, other factors such as emotional issues, temperature and climate, and skin infections play a significant role in atopic eczema. As you would know though, no two people are alike and it therefore becomes very hard to pinpoint a specific cause of the condition.

Treating atopic eczema requires a partnership among the patient, family members and doctor or naturopath. The three goals in treating the condition are healing the skin and keeping it healthy, preventing outbreaks and treating outbreaks when they occur. Prevention really is better than cure. Being careful of your skin, watching the diet, wearing appropriate clothing and keeping your immediate environment free of allergens can lessen the severity of your outbreaks.

Developing and sticking to a daily skincare routine is critical to prevent outbreaks. It is imperative that you keep your skin clean and well moisturized or hydrated. Apply an emollient regularly, especially immediately after drying your skin following a wash or bath (within 3 minutes is best). It is also good to place a small amount of your cream into a small travel container, so you can take it with you when you are on the go. This will help ensure that your skin stays moisturized at all times.

Although the symptoms of atopic eczema can be difficult and uncomfortable, the disease can be successfully managed. People with the condition can lead healthy normal lives, and as scientists learn more about atopic eczema and what causes it, they will continue to move closer to effective treatments and perhaps, ultimately a cure.

Mel Sinclair, RN