What is eczema?
It’s a general term for inflammation of the skin which can show as a red,itchy rash. Another term for eczema is dermatitis. There are several different types of eczema, and several causes. Atopic eczema is the most common type. Eczema is not contagious. It can affect people of all ages. One in five children, and one in twelve adults, are affected by eczema.
What causes it?
The causes of eczema are not fully known. There is evidence that atopic eczema has a genetic basis, and so is hereditary. It can also be aggravated by exposure to potential irritants such as soap and detergents, dust, pollen and rubbing on clothing. It’s also possible that stress may play a part in precipitating flare-ups of eczema.
Normal skin retains water and oils in and between the cells which ensure it is an effective and supple barrier against invasion from outside.
But the skin of an eczema sufferer does not retain the water and oils, and so the skin becomes dry and gaps appear between the cells and structures of the skin. The result is dry, inflamed skin which can easily become infected.
Symptoms and signs
The affected skin appears dry, flaky, itchy and inflamed. Areas of the body likely to be affected include the face, and creases of the skin such as the neck, back of the legs and knees, elbows and wrists. In more severe cases the skin will be cracked, weeping and even bleeding. Affected skin is also liable to infection which will aggravate the condition.
The main treatment for eczema is to try to avoid the skin losing moisture. So creams and ointments containing water and fats, known as emollients, are used on the skin to keep it moist and supple.
When there are especially severe symptoms, steroid creams may be used which help to reduce inflammation. Where it’s clear that the condition is aggravated by exposure to a substance, such as detergent, then it is wise to avoid exposure to the substance or find an alternative. Eczema in children, particularly if mild, may disappear in time.
Why see a trichologist
A trichologist will be able to make or confirm a diagnosis of eczema, help identify the type of eczema suffered, and will be able to recommend possible treatments.
Importantly, a trichologist will be able to recommend referral to a specialist where appropriate
The National Eczema Society is a UK charity which provides advice, help and support to sufferers of eczema and their families.
The British Skin Foundation provides information on all types of skin conditions and diseases, and raises funds for research into treatments and cures.