Eczema / Dermatitis
This page contains information about eczema / dermatitis in adults and children, including possible triggers and how to treat eczema with emollients. There are also details on Balsam of Peru and Allergy to Cosmetics. 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 allergy/condition causing inflammation and intense irritation. Eczema symptoms tend to be caused by dry skin.
Skin that is affected by eczema gets sore and broken when it is scratched. It can look wet and may bleed. Scratching is hard to avoid since the main distressing symptom of eczema is unbearable itching, but once the skin gets broken and cracked, infections can set in, causing even more discomfort.
What Does Atopy/Atopic Mean?
There are many types of eczema and dermatitis:
- Atopic Eczema / Atopic Dermatitis
- Discoid Eczema
- Contact Dermatitis
Specifically, 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.
Can Food Allergies Cause Eczema?
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, of which food can be one, especially in babies. However, foods are not the primary cause of eczema.
Eczema / Dermatitis Treatments
Emollient lotions and creams are prescribed for treating atopic 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 eczema 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 do not 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 / atopic dermatitis, and for more useful tips on management and treatment, please find further useful resources below…