What causes eczema and can it be cured?
Affecting one in twelve adults, and more than double that number of children, research shows that rates of eczema are on the rise. While there’s currently no cure, there’s a lot we can do to keep the condition under control and help soothe symptoms. Read on to understand the causes of sore, scaly skin and what can be done to stop eczema in its tracks.
What is eczema?
Eczema is the umbrella term used to describe a number of inflammatory skin conditions that can trigger changes in the uppermost layer of the skin. There are several different types of eczema but by far the most common is the atopic kind which is caused by damage to our skin’s barrier. In healthy skin, this barrier works to keep infection out and our precious hydrators (like water and lipids) firmly sealed in. In causes of atopic eczema, however, disruption to this barrier causes the skin to become inflamed, itchy, and irritated. It can affect people of all ages, from infants to adults, and its severity can vary from person to person. Eczema typically presents as red, dry, and scaly patches on the skin, often accompanied by intense itching. Scratching these patches can lead to further inflammation and even infection.
What causes it?
Atopic eczema affects both men and women equally and tends to run in families. Research shows that if one or both parents have the condition, their children are more likely to go on to develop it too. Scientists have identified a specific gene variant which can cause a deficiency in a protein called filaggrin. This protein plays a crucial role in maintaining our skin’s barrier function, helping to shape individual skin cells and ensure they knit tightly together. Without it, we’re more prone to infection and to leaking hydrators from the skin barrier.
Eczema is also part of a collection of conditions called the ‘atopic march’ (hayfever, allergies, eczema and asthma). These conditions tend to cluster together in families, so if a parent has hayfever, for instance, this increases a child’s likelihood of developing eczema.
Environmental factors such as exposure to irritants, allergens, extreme temperatures, and stress can also trigger or worsen eczema symptoms.
How to manage your eczema effectively
While there is no known cure for eczema, there are several strategies and lifestyle changes that can effectively manage its symptoms and improve quality of life:
Moisturise Regularly: Keeping the skin well-hydrated is crucial in managing eczema. Use fragrance-free, hypoallergenic moisturisers to prevent dryness and reduce itching. Apply moisturiser after bathing and throughout the day as needed.
Gentle Cleansing: Use mild, fragrance-free cleansers and avoid hot water, as it can strip the skin of natural oils. Pat the skin dry gently after bathing instead of rubbing.
Avoid Triggers: Identify and avoid triggers that worsen your eczema symptoms. These could include certain fabrics, detergents, household cleaners, and specific foods. Keeping a journal can help you pinpoint triggers.
Appropriate Clothing: Choose soft, breathable fabrics like cotton and avoid rough or scratchy materials. Dress in layers to regulate body temperature and reduce sweating, which can exacerbate symptoms.
Prescription Medications: In severe cases, your medical practitioner might prescribe topical corticosteroids, calcineurin inhibitors, or other prescription medications to manage inflammation and itching.
Antihistamines: Over the counter or prescription antihistamines can help alleviate itching and improve sleep quality, especially when taken before bedtime.
Stress Management: Stress can trigger eczema flare-ups, so practicing relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, and deep breathing can be beneficial.
Avoid Scratching: Scratching can worsen eczema and lead to infections. Keep nails short and consider wearing soft gloves at night to prevent scratching during sleep.
Get professional help
If you’re struggling to get your eczema under control don’t delay in seeking the guidance of a medical professional. Steroid creams are the gold-standard treatment for redness and itching, and while over the counter formulas are available (hydrocortisone for example), stronger treatments are often prescribed for more severe cases. Getting on top of eczema early is crucial to its treatment, and these prescription steroids do a great job of stopping runaway inflammation and quickly clearing any flare-ups.
If eczema is affecting large areas of the body, topical treatments can be impractical, however. In these cases, your doctor may prescribe oral steroids. These are immunosuppressants, which means they can make the body more vulnerable to infection and should only be taken for short periods of time to get the condition under control.
The link between vitamin D, UV, and eczema is the key to yet another type of eczema treatment, known as phototherapy which involves sitting in front of a UV light-emitting machine that treats the skin with different wavelengths of light for a matter of minutes. This is generally repeated two or three times a week for a period of 12-16 weeks.
If you’d like to learn more about the options, and which may be right for you, click here to enquire or to book a consultation with a medical practitioner.
Disclaimer: Please be aware that results and benefits may vary from patient to patient taking into consideration factors such as age, lifestyle and medical history.