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What is Eczema?

What is Eczema?

Understanding Eczema:

Eczema also known as Atopic Dermatitis is more than just a skin problem; it is an indication that there is a problem with your immune system. In fact, eczema is said to be one of the first signs of allergy during the first days of life, and almost three out of four children with early eczema later go on to develop asthma or hay fever.

The beneficial bacteria in your gut have actually been found to help prevent allergies, by training your immune system to distinguish between harmful and non-harmful and to respond appropriately. This may be one reason why they also appear so beneficial for eczema. Researchers have also found that infants receiving probiotic supplements are half as likely to develop skin conditions.

 At birth the human gastrointestinal tract is sterile, babies actually get their first "inoculation" of gut flora from the birth canal during childbirth, and in the first days, months and years of life, rapid colonization of bacteria occurs until a stable indigenous gut micro-flora is established. Breastfeeding protects your baby, and assists in providing healthy gut flora, which is why breastfeeding is so crucial to your child's health. No infant formulas can do this

The most benefit from probiotics, at least in terms of eczema, happens very early on in life. The preventive effect appears to be established within the first 3 months of life, although it appears to be sustained during the first two years to a lesser extent.

This means that it is essential for your baby to receive plenty of beneficial bacteria in the first few months of life and continuing through childhood and onto adulthood.

Eczema appearing in adulthood is far less common, and with each individual, the rashes differ. Eczema may vary from very mild to severe, particularly with those individuals that suffering from dry, sensitive skin.

Eczema is extremely itchy and as a result of sufferers often scratch their skin until they draw blood, which further aggravates the condition. When this happens, more inflammation and itching occur and it is referred to as the itch-scratch cycle.

The areas that are affected are often dry, thickened or scaly and in fair-skinned individuals, these areas may at first appear to be red and often turn brown; in darker-skinned individuals, eczema will usually affect pigmentation, which will make the area that is affected either darker or lighter.

In infants, the condition can be quite alarming as the itchy rash can produce a nasty discharge which may lead to crusting that usually appears on the scalp and on to face, although the rash and patches can be anywhere on the body.

Eczema is not contagious and therefore does not spread from person to person.

In many instances, eczema is manageable but there is no cure. The word eczema originates from the Greek, which means effervesce or to bubble over.

Preventing flare-ups:                                                                 

Prevention is better than cure holds true especially when it comes to eczema.

Moisturising all the time is important for dry skin, especially during the dry, cold winter months, preventing the skin from cracking which otherwise may lead to eczema and psoriasis.

Substances such as washing powders, creams, cosmetics or even certain fabric textures rubbing against the delicate skin may cause flare-ups.

Extreme temperatures also play a part in causing eczema. Very cold weather can be very harsh on the skin, as well as excessively hot weather where we tend to perspire more than usual.

Animals can also trigger allergic reactions.

Stress is another trigger as are colds and upper respiratory infections.

Foods that trigger should also be avoided.

A correct diagnosis is important:                                                                       

Ask a paediatrician, dermatologist, healthcare professional or pharmacist to assist with a diagnosis. This is especially important in the case of babies and young children.

Many individuals that have eczema also have other allergies; your general practitioner may want to conduct certain allergy testing to ascertain what the irritants and triggers are.

Treating your eczema:                                                                                            Most of the creams prescribed for eczema are applied when the skin is damp, as this helps the skin to retain as much moisture as possible.

It is important to moisturise correctly with well-formulated creams to relieve and prevent the dryness and itching which often leads to infection. Corticosteroids are also often prescribed to lessen the inflammation.

Should the affected area become infected antibiotics creams are used to deal with the infection and in severe cases, oral antibiotics may be used.

Antihistamines are used for the severe itching as well as coal tar treatments to reduce the itch. Phototherapy may also be used where ultraviolet light is directed onto the affected area. Sunlight itself often has amazing healing effect on eczema and regular exposure may just do the trick.

Topical immune-modulators are prescribed for the treatment of mild to moderate eczema. These are skin creams that work by altering the immune system’s response to the allergen 

There is no single cure for eczema, although it can be managed quite effectively; this is either through avoiding certain situations and products as well as with medical treatment. Ask your general practitioner or pharmacist about the best treatment going forward.

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