Skin Condition Series, Eczema

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Eczema is a skin condition characterized by patches of skin that become itchy, red, inflamed, and rough and cracked. A large number of people are affected by eczema globally.

What is Eczema?

The word “eczema” can be used either to describe any skin condition characterized by rash or to describe atopic dermatitis, which is a chronic condition of the skin that usually begins during infancy and continues through childhood. Some people will not have the condition as an adult while some will continue to have eczema in adulthood also. Eczema is a chronic condition that is characterized by periodical flares and remissions.

The term “atopic” refers to group of diseases that involve the immune system and includes atopic dermatitis, hay fever and asthma. People suffering from atopic dermatitis may also have asthma and hay fever.

What are the symptoms of Eczema?

The symptoms and signs of eczema vary in different persons and include:

  • Severe itching, worse especially at night
  • Red to brownish patches of skin especially on the feet, hands, ankles, neck, wrist, eyelids, upper chest, inside the bend of knees and elbows and in infants on the scalp and face
  • Cracked, thickened, scaly, dry skin
  • Small, raised bumps from which fluid may leak and form crust after scratching
  • Sensitive, raw, swollen skin especially from scratching

What are the causes of Eczema?

The exact cause of eczema is not known. Healthy skin helps in the retention of moisture and provides protection against bacteria, allergens and irritants. Eczema is very likely to be related to a variety of factors:

  • Irritable, dry skin, which decreases the ability of the skin to provide effective protection
  • Dysfunction of the immune system
  • Certain environmental conditions
  • A variation in a gene that affects the barrier function of the skin
  • Presence of bacteria including Staphylococcus aureus on the skin that forms a film that cause blockage of sweat glands.

There are several factors that put certain people at increased risk of getting the condition. Some of these are:

  • A family or personal history of allergies, eczema, asthma or hay fever
  • Working as a healthcare worker increases the risk of getting hand dermatitis

Risk factors that make children more prone to get the condition are:

  • Living in urban region
  • Being of a African-American descent
  • Being born to parents who are highly educated
  • Attending child care
  • Having ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder)

Factors that can aggravate the symptoms and signs of eczema are:

  • Dry skin, resulting from long, hot showers or baths
  • Scratching, this leads to more skin damage
  • Viruses and bacteria
  • Sweat
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Changes in humidity and temperature
  • Cleaners, solvents, detergents and soaps
  • Wool in blankets, clothing and carpets
  • Pollen and dust
  • Air pollution and tobacco smoke
  • Milk, eggs, soybeans, fish, peanuts and wheat in children and infants
  • Hormonal changes in females (symptoms of eczema can worsen during pregnancy or at times when hormones are changing during the menstrual cycle)
  • Eczema has a relation to allergies. However, eliminating allergens rarely helps in relieving the problem. Occasionally, things that trap dust including down comforters, feather pillows, carpeting, mattresses and drapes can aggravate the condition.

Dietary and lifestyle changes for eczema sufferers

Following simple changes in your diet and lifestyle can help relieve your symptoms of eczema.

Keep track of the triggers of your eczema

 A flare up can be triggered by many things from fragrances to dust mites to certain foods. The important point is to identify your triggers and then to avoid them. Usually fragrance causes flare ups of eczema; hence eliminate all things with fragrance such as perfumes, soaps, scented body lotions, cosmetics etc. from your daily routine. Instead opt for mild, unscented products that do not contain any chemicals and additives. Eczema flare ups can also be triggered by certain foods such as eggs, nuts, milk, fish etc. Identify the food item that triggers your eczema and eliminate it from your diet. Eat less sugar and refined foods as these foods cause inflammation in the body.

Moisturize your itchy, dry skin often

 Moisturizing your skin frequently, especially after bathing and washing is important to keep eczema flares under control. Choose unscented, plain moisturizer. Usually thicker products including creams and ointments provide more protection to your skin.

Manage extremes of temperatures at home

 Eczema can flare up from changes in temperature or humidity. During hot and humid weather, use air conditioner to keep your home cool. During cold weather, use a cool mist humidifier to prevent drying of skin.

Avoid scratching of patches of eczema

Scratching can actually damage your skin and can result in an infection. Instead, use ways to control itching such as frequent moisturizing, cold compresses, baths and medicines.

Take care to not sweat too much

Eczema flare ups can result from sweating or getting overheated. Take shower immediately after a workout. Avoid getting overheated.

Wear cotton clothes that are comfortable and do not cause irritation of the skin

Cotton blends and cotton clothes are the best choices. Avoid wearing wool and synthetic fabrics including polyester. Wash new clothes before wearing it. Chose a mild, unscented liquid detergent. Avoid using fabric softener.

Manage your stress

 Being under stress increases the risk of a flare up of eczema. Moreover, the stress is increased by the discomfort and itching of eczema creating a vicious cycle. To break this cycle of stress, practice techniques to reduce stress such as yoga, deep breathing, meditation or biofeedback. Getting regular physical exercise can also help in reducing stress.

Follow basic skin care routine in the bath or shower

 Bath or shower in lukewarm water instead of hot water. Do not scrub your skin. Avoid using soap, instead use a gentle cleanser. After bathing, pat dry. Apply a plain moisturizer on your already damp skin.

Protect your hands from irritation

Wear rubber gloves while washing dishes or placing them in water. Wear cotton gloves while you are doing other types of work in the house. In cold weather, while outside, wear cotton or leather gloves as wool gloves may lead to irritation of the skin.

Use medication for eczema when required

 If your symptoms are not relieved by dietary and lifestyle modifications alone, then consult your physician about using medicine to ease your symptoms. They may suggest an OTC ointment or oral antihistamine or a prescription drug. If you have already been prescribed a medicine by your physician, use it as recommended.

Supplements for eczema

Omega Oils

There are 3 kinds of omega-3 fatty acids: Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), Alpha-linolenic acid and Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Omega-3 fatty acids decrease pain and swelling, thereby reducing inflammation. Omega oils also have a positive effect on the immune system of the body. They have been found to be beneficial in eczema. According to an article published in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, fish consumption in infancy prevented the development of eczema in childhood. In an article published in the American journal of Clinical Nutrition administration of alpha-linolenic acid has been found to improve atopic dermatitis or eczema. The study also suggested that eczema could be a minor inherited abnormality of EFA (essential fatty acid) metabolism.

Lactobacillus acidophilus

Lactobacillus acidophilus is one of the major good bacteria present in the human digestive system. It thrives at a pH of 5.0 and a temperature of 37 degree C. It converts sugar into lactic acid via fermentation. Lactobacillus has been found to be effective in boosting the immune system and in controlling allergies particularly in children. According to a study published in the Journal Paediatric Allergy and Immunology it was found that feeding lactobacillus during weaning period could be an effective tool in the prevention of early manifestation of eczema.

Selenium

Selenium is an essential trace element that is needed by the body for multiple functions. The daily recommended dose of Selenium is 50-200 mcg. Its richest source is Brazil nut; however, it is also found in garlic, mushrooms, eggs, brown rice, Swiss chard or any other plant grown or animal grazed on soil rich in Selenite. It helps in maintaining the health of the immune system and acts as an antioxidant. According to a study published in the Journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy, the available animal, epidemiological, immunological and molecular data suggests that there are associations between asthma and antioxidants and to a much lesser extent between antioxidants and atopic dermatitis.

Zinc

Zinc is a trace element that is present in majority of the cells of the human body. It is a vital co-factor of many cellular enzymes. Zinc is an antioxidant and helps in the maintenance of immune health. It is very effective in maintaining the health of the skin. And as previously mentioned there is an association between antioxidants and atopic dermatitis or eczema; hence, zinc may be useful supplement for relieving symptoms of eczema.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E is a type of fat soluble vitamin. There are 8 forms of Vitamin E: four tocopherols and four tocotrienols. Vitamin E is a potent antioxidant. It reduces oxidative stress by destroying free radicals, thereby, reducing cellular damage. According to a study published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology there is preliminary evidence that vitamin E is useful in the treatment of Atopic dermatitis; however, further trials are needed.

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 is a water soluble vitamin and is usually found in animal foods such as oily fish, organ meats, and cheese and egg yolks. Vitamin B12 promotes cell division resulting in a healthy immune system. Vitamin B12 is applied topically mixed with avocado oil to relieve eczema. According to a study published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology a beneficial effect was noted after topical application of a preparation containing 0.07% Vitamin B12 in avocado oil in comparison to a placebo preparation in patients with eczema.

Eczema is a skin condition characterized by patches of skin that become itchy, red, inflamed, and rough and cracked. There is no known cause of eczema; however, a number of factors can trigger the condition and aggravate the symptoms. Following simple changes in your diet and lifestyle can help relieve your symptoms of eczema. There are various supplements such as Omega oils, lactobacillus acidophilus, selenium, zinc, vitamin E and vitamin B12 that you can take to relieve the symptoms.

 

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