Although about five percent of the population suffer from atopic eczema, this chronic inflammatory skin condition has no known cure.
Atopic eczema commonly affects areas like the inner side of the elbows, knees, wrists and ankles and when exposed to aggravating factors, the condition will flare-up and the skin will become itchy, red and inflamed.
The exact cause of atopic eczema is unknown. It is thought to be an inherited condition and if you have a family history of eczema, you are more likely to develop the condition yourself. If you suffer from atopic eczema you are also more susceptible to other allergic conditions, such as asthma, hay fever and allergies to food or the environment. These conditions often co-exist and can be aggravated by allergens, stress, fatigue or changes in weather.
Symptoms of eczema are a skin rash that might be inflamed, swollen, itchy, red, flaky or dry. When skin is dry and cracked it is more susceptible to bacterial infections, so the skin may also appear weepy, oozing or bleeding.
There are several options for effectively managing this condition. Corticosteroids are commonly used to manage mild to moderate eczema, but it is important that you ask your community pharmacist about using corticosteroids effectively. You should always try to use the lowest effective strength and use as little as possible. Corticosteroids must be applied sparingly to the affected areas and only when needed as they thin the skin.
If you get eczema on your face, it is important that only mild corticosteroids are used, as the skin in this area is thinner and more prone to absorption and local side effects. Stronger corticosteroids may be used on other parts of the body and during severe flare-ups.
Other treatments include:
- Antibiotics for secondary infections..
- Products to manage itchiness.
- Fragrance free moisturisers are essential in the management of eczema. Try to use moisturisers frequently throughout the day (and especially after showering) to moisturise the skin, to stop the skin itching and to protect against allergens.
- Soap substitutes, like aqueous cream should be used instead of soap to keep the skin moisturised and minimise dryness.
Eczema is influenced by lifestyle factors so ask your community pharmacist about managing your eczema. Some people develop flare-ups when there are sudden changes in the weather, so where possible try to anticipate changes in weather (for example, during travel) and prepare yourself with effective treatments.
Stress can also trigger flare-ups so try to avoid or manage stress as best you can. Stress management involves changing the stressful situation, changing the reaction if the situation is unavoidable, practising better health care and making time for rest and relaxation. Getting enough sleep is also an important factor.
Also try to avoid known allergens, like dust mites, pollen and animals, and certain types of clothing, such as wool and synthetics. Some foods can also cause flare-ups - common food allergens include spicy foods, alcohol, food colouring, wheat, eggs, soy and peanut products.
Try to avoid long, hot baths and don’t scratch if you develop itchy rashes. Seek advice from your community pharmacist if you skin appears infected.