Eczema or atopic dermatitis is a condition characterized by skin inflammation. A person with eczema would have itchy, red and dry skin lesions. Genetic inheritance can also be a primary cause of eczema. People with eczema are more prone to develop allergic conditions such as hay fever or asthma.
Signs and symptoms
The symptoms of eczema vary for every individual. Sometimes, the symptoms may be spread to the other areas of the body. If you have allergic eczema, you are likely to notice the following signs and symptoms:
- Intense itching, especially at night
- Raised bumps over the skin
- Cracked skin
- Development of sensitive skin by scratching
- Extreme rashes over the skin
- Puffy and itchy eyelids
- Reddish or dark coloured patches on the skin
- Cracked or scaly skin
Diagnosis of eczema
If you observe the symptoms of eczema, consult your doctor.
Your doctor would observe the morphology of your skin and look for the symptoms of eczema. He would also ask you about,
- Any recent exposure to allergens or irritants
- Current medications that you are taking
- About previous treatments pertaining to skin-related issues
The tests that your doctor may prescribe to check for eczema are as follows:
A small amount of blood sample is drawn and is tested for the presence of eosinophils. Increased levels of eosinophil cells in your blood sample indicate an immune reaction. The levels of allergen-specific IgE antibodies would also be assessed in the blood sample.
Skin biopsy: Skin biopsy is a procedure where your doctor numbs the skin and removes a small sample of your skin. The sample is examined under a microscope diagnose eczema.
Skin prick test: This test is used to identify the allergies that are caused by pollens, dust mites, and certain foods. Needles (lancelets) are used to remove skin tissue at the test site.
Patch testing: Patch test is done to identify the allergy that is caused due to substances such as fragrances, rubber, metals, resins, hair dyes, and preservatives. This test involves exposing your skin to certain extracts of substances (chemicals) and then evaluating your skin reaction.
The treatment of eczema aims to relieve its symptoms and prevent itching. Eczema can be persistent and thus may require treatment for a long duration.
Moisturizers are very helpful in patients with eczema as it promotes skin repair and prevents skin dryness.
Medications: Over-the-counter topical corticosteroid creams, ointments, and solutions are used to relieve itchiness and skin inflammation. Other medications such as antihistamines can be useful in decreasing severe itching. Topical calcineurin inhibitors decrease inflammation. Eczema causes scratching and this may lead to the growth of bacteria over the skin. Topical antibiotics are used to treat bacterial skin infections if present.
Phototherapy: Ultraviolet light is used to treat moderate to severe eczema. The doctor would carefully assess the severity of eczema and prescribe the lowest possible dose. Careful monitoring is needed as phototherapy can increase the risk of skin cancer.
Wet wraps: Certain medicated bandages and wet dressings/wrappings over the affected area prevents scratching and allows the skin to heal quickly. This also prevents the skin from drying out.
Individuals who have a family history of allergic diseases should follow these measures to prevent eczema
- Watch your personal care products: Choose your personal care products carefully as some people are more sensitive to certain soaps, shampoos, and shower gel. Consumption of certain medications can also aggravate skin irritation.
- Avoid harsh fabrics: Avoid wearing raw linen and synthetic fabrics that tend to irritate your skin. Wear cotton clothing to prevent skin irritation.
- Do not scratch: Avoid scratching as it causes damage to your skin. Gently rub over your skin to reduce itchiness.
- Use a humidifier: Use a humidifier in your home and workplace as dry air can cause dry skin.
- Choose your foods carefully: Avoid consuming foods that trigger allergic reactions. Foods such as nuts, dairy products, and wheat/gluten may stimulate allergies.
- Stay away from allergens: If you have any allergies like asthma, keep yourself away from allergy triggers such as pollen and pets.
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