Eczema and Skin Allergy
This page contains information about eczema and other skin conditions such as urticaria and angioedema. You can also find information about Balsam of Peru and allergy medications. All factsheets are downloadable at the bottom of this page.
What is Eczema?
Eczema, also known as ‘atopic eczema’ or ‘atopic dermatitis’, is a skin condition causing inflammation and intense irritation. Eczema symptoms tend to be caused by dry skin.
What Does Atopy/Atopic Mean?
Atopy, or being atopic, means having a genetic tendency for your immune system to make increased levels of IgE antibodies to certain allergens. An atopic individual is likely to have more than one allergic condition during their lifetime, such as eczema, asthma, hay fever or food allergy.
What is Urticaria?
Urticaria is also known as ‘nettle rash’ or ‘hives’. The condition consists of wheals - spots or patches of raised red or white skin - each of which usually clear away in a few hours, and are then replaced by other fresh wheals. Urticaria is very common and affects one in five people at some point in their lives. The more common type of urticaria rash (hives) lasts up to 24 hours, produces larger wheals and may not completely clear for several days. It sometimes occurs together with swelling of various parts of the body (angioedema) - typically the face, hands and feet, although anywhere may be affected.
What is Angieodema?
Angioedema is the name given to deeper swelling affecting the skin over the arms, legs, torso or face. It may also affect the tongue, mouth, throat and sometimes the upper airway. These swellings commonly last for more than 24hrs, and usually there is no itching. It is not possible to identify an underlying cause for angioedema in the vast majority of cases.
Urticaria and angioedema often occur at different times or together in the same person. They occur in about 15 per cent of the population at some time or other in their lives, women being affected more commonly than men.
Can Food Allergies Cause Eczema?
No. Children are born with the tendency to have eczema and many things can make their eczema worse. These are known as eczema ‘triggers’. Eczema in children can have various triggers, which food can be one especially in babies. However, foods are not the primary cause of eczema.
Emollient lotions and creams are prescribed for treating eczema and dry skin, and are, in their simplest form, mixtures of oil and water.
- Topical steroid creams
It is sometimes necessary to apply topical corticosteroids (e.g. hydrocortisone), as these reduce inflammation in the skin caused by eczema
- Wet wraps
Sometimes, special pyjama-like garments (known as ‘wet wraps’) that are used for children, may also help certain areas of your body that have not responded to the usual topical application of emollients and steroids.
- Calcineurin inhibitors
Calcineurin inhibitors are an alternative to steroid creams. Like steroid creams, they reduce the skin inflammation and can lessen itching.
There is more detailed information about each treatment on our downloadable Eczema Factsheet
How Can I Manage Eczema?
You can find a whole host of useful tips on our Eczema Factsheet but here are 3 top tips to follow:
- Apply your emollients regularly. The chore of a twice daily skin cream regime can become annoying, especially if your symptoms have improved. But remember that the symptoms have improved because the eczema is under control. Without the cream, it may flare up again. Keep up the routine so that your efforts to keep your skin healthy and hydrated doesn’t go to waste.
- You could need to apply your emollients from two to four times a day. It can be useful to have extra emollients available should you need them when you are away from home. For example, keep spares at work or in the car.
- It is important to be aware of, and look for, the signs of bacterial infections (weeping and crusting), since the skin of eczema sufferers is more prone to infection due to the cracks and constant scratching.
For more detailed information about atopic eczema and for more useful tips on management and treatment, please find further useful resources below…
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