There are many related forms of the disease. One of the most common is infantile atopic eczema, which is probably caused by an allergic reaction.
It affects young babies between the ages of 2-18 months, covering the face, head, scalp, and spreading to the hands and limbs, particularly where the skin has folds or is rubbed by clothing.
Most children grow out of the disease, although it can reappear in later life.
Another from of the disease is contact eczema, caused by an allergic reaction to a substance coming into contact with the skin. The allergic reaction can be quite violent, for example, after exposure to plants such as primula, Rhus tree, or poison ivy.
Reaction to allergens can also be the cause of mild forms, for example, nickel in a metal watch strap.
Eczema on the hands often affects people such as nurses, hairdressers, industrial workers or housewives who continually handle strong chemicals such as solvents, and shampoos, or household detergents, often without wearing gloves.
Seborrhoeic eczema a rash affecting those with oily facial skin settles in the creases at the sides of the nose, or in men, it may spread to the beard or hairy parts of the body. In its mildest form, it occurs on the scalp as dandruff.
What causes eczema?
The causes of eczema are often not easy to pinpoint. Apart from contact with harsh chemicals, the most likely causes seem to be an allergy to a food or other substance. In infants, for example, it can sometimes be traced to a reaction to cow’s milk.
People affected by eczema often suffer from hayfever or asthma, or come from families prone to these allergies. Stress and tension may also be contributory factors.
How is eczema diagnosed and treated?
Eczema causes a red rash, accompanied by scaling and blisters. It is usually very itchy and if scratched, it may lead to weeping areas which can become infected.
Mild cases do respond to simple home treatments, such as keeping the affected area clean, and well lubricated. Rubber gloves should be worn to protect the hands.
When should I see my doctor?
If the rash fails to respond to home treatment, or if it is very severe, you should consult your doctor.
What will the doctor do?
Your doctor may prescribe a steroid cream which should be applied strictly according to the instructions. Prolonged or inappropriate use of such creams can cause unpleasant side effects.
An antibiotic may be used to clear up any infection, and an antihistamine drug may be given to reduce itching.
A path test may be carried out. This involves applying the suspected allergic substance to a small area of skin to see if there is a reaction. If an allergy to a food or substance is suspected, the doctor may carry out tests which eliminate particular foods from the diet.
What can I do myself?
An emollient cream will keep the affected area supple-petroleum jelly, lanolin ointment or baby oil are good choices. Wear cotton next to the skin and use rubber gloves to protect the hands when using harsh chemicals or powerful household cleansers.
Try not to scratch the rash. For a baby, wearing cotton mittens day and night can prevent the child from aggravating the condition. If an allergy is suspected, try to avoid the food or substance which produces the reaction. Breastfed babies seem less prone to eczema than bottlefed babies.
What can I do to avoid eczema?
Avoid substances or foods which you suspect may produce an allergic reaction. Protect the skin from harsh chemicals. However, despite taking these precautions, eczema can often occur and recur for seemingly little or no reason.
Is eczema dangerous?
Treatment, even when the cause is not clearly understood, is usually effective. One severe from involves the whole body and requires hospital treatment. Eczema can be an irritating and distressing condition, but it is not contagious or in any way dangerous to health.
Natural Remedies for Eczema
A marigold infusion and/or ointment may be advised by herbalists to relieve, and prevent, itching, blisters and skin flaking- the typical symptoms of eczema.
An infusion can be made by steeping 30g 1oz of marigold petals in 600ml 1pt of boiling water for ten minutes. Drain the infusion and then drink, as required.
- A red, flaky rash.
- Scaling and blisters.
- Weeping sores which may become affected.