Eczema / Dermatitis
This page contains information about eczema /dermatitis in adults and children, including triggers and some advice and tips on how to treat eczema. More detailed information can be found in the eczema Factsheets for children and adults which are downloadable at the bottom of this page.
What is Eczema?
Eczema, also known as ‘atopic eczema’ or ‘atopic dermatitis (used interchangeably to describe the same condition), is a common chronic inflammatory skin condition. Eczema affects people of all ages but is most commonly first seen in infants and young children.
There are many different types of eczema, and atopic eczema is one of the most common. 'Atopic' means it runs in families and/or affects those who already have other types of allergies. An atopic person is likely to have more than one allergic condition, such as eczema, asthma, hay fever or food allergy.
Eczema symptoms affect the skin and include:
- Dry skin
- Itchy skin (intense itch that cannot be relieved)
- Red and inflamed areas (eczema flares)
- Skin barrier becomes damaged (broken and cracked skin)
Eczema and food allergy:
- Food can be a trigger for eczema but is not the cause' of the eczema
- Food can play a role in non IgE (delayed) types of food allergy and common culprits include cow's milk, egg, wheat and soya
- Eczema starts in the first few months of life and is moderate in severity - a risk factor development of a food allergy
- Managing eczema well in babies may reduce the chance of children developing food allergy
- Avoid skincare products e.g., oils, creams that contain foods e.g. coconut or olive oil
Eczema triggers and Irritants:
There are many things that can aggravate eczema and make it worse. Triggers and irritants are things we are exposed to as part of daily life in our work environment or at school. Eczema triggers will be unique to each person, and it is possible to have one or more trigger. Some triggers are easy to work out, others not so. Triggers can also change over the course of time.
Some of the common triggers and irritants are listed below:
- Dry skin
- Heat – summer weather, overheated homes/work environments
- Irritants such as perfumes, bubble bath, soap and cosmetics
- Stress and emotional upset can aggravate eczema skin
- Swimming pools (chlorine)
- Fabrics like wool (causes a prickle to sensitive/eczema skin)
- Animal dander or house dust mites
- Sandpits and water play
- Bacterial or viral skin infections
- Sitting on grass or carpet
- Airborne allergens (pollen) particularly in the spring/summer
Daily eczema care:
Eczema skin is usually dry and sensitive. Taking good care of eczema skin is important. Whether the skin appears in good condition or not it needs to be well moisturised. It is important to put the right type of emollients (moisturiser) onto eczema skin. This is important to help improve dryness and maintain the skin barrier which has a key role to play in preventing harmful bugs causing infection.
- Apply a thick and plain emollient as often as is needed all over the body (head to toe)
- Emollients come in many types- creams and ointments are best for eczema skin
- Avoid irritants like soap and bubbles for washing, choose an emollient wash or soap substitute
Treating eczema flares: When eczema worsens it becomes red and inflamed this is called an 'eczema flare.
- Eczema flares need a steroid cream/ointment to help reduce the red and inflamed-active areas of eczema.
- Steroids should only be used on the red and inflamed areas and with a time interval of 30 minutes between applying the emollient and steroid.
- The lowest potent (strength) steroid that helps manage the flares should be used with a step up to a stronger steroid if needed.