What is eczema? (also known as atopic dermatitis or atopic eczema)
Eczema is a chronic and complex itchy skin condition. But it is more than just a skin condition. For those living with eczema, it can vary from a mild to moderate itch to an extremely itchy, painful and debilitating condition, with huge effects on quality of life. It can look very different in babies/children and adults.
Babies with eczema often have inflammation (redness and flare ups) around the face and neck area.
Children with eczema often have dry skin. The flexures are usually affected, including the knees, elbows and the skin of the neck.
Some people have lifelong disease, others may not develop the symptoms until adulthood. It can be localised or widespread, and it may be severe and difficult to treat. Even if the eczema / atopic dermatitis is confined to just the hands, the impact on quality of life is huge.
What causes eczema?
Eczema can be influenced by genetics (runs in the family) and/or environmental factors (external triggers). Eczema is NOT contagious. The latest studies have revealed that eczema is actually caused by an autoimmune disorder. Atopic dermatitis is an autoimmune disease caused by an overactive immune system, resulting in inflammation.
One of the main problems is that people with atopic dermatitis have a defective skin barrier. This skin is less able to protect a person from irritants and allergens. It can lead to increased bacterial or viral infections which in turn can contribute to eczema flare ups.
People with atopic eczema often have other atopic (allergic) conditions such as asthma, hayfever and food allergies and are more prone to develop allergies to house dust mite, pollens, grasses, animals and latex, as well as foodstuffs.
As well as atopic dermatitis, there are several different types of eczema not related to atopy. These include discoid eczema, seborrheic eczema, lichen simplex, venous eczema and hand and foot eczema.
What are the triggers of eczema?
The triggers of eczema will often be different for each individual. It can be extremely frustrating as you try to work out the cause of each flare up. Avoiding triggers and controlling flare ups/inflammation are ways in which you can manage your condition. But there is rarely just one trigger that will be responsible.
Skin Irritants, such as soaps & detergents
Dry, Low Humidity Weather
Hot, Humid Weather Associated with Sweating
Dust Mite (if there is an allergy to household dust mite)
Food Allergies or intolerances (seek doctors/allergist/immunologist advice before eliminating foods)
Clothing e.g. coarse, scratchy wool, synthetic materials like polyester, tags, on clothing
Viral and bacterial infections can both seriously aggravate eczema. Herpes simplex (cold sores) may become widespread and require hospitalisation.
Skin Allergens which cause allergic contact dermatitis such as perfume, preservatives in skincare products, metals such as nickle and many other.
Pollens, grasses ad moulds
Pet dander and saliva
What is the cure?
There is no ‘cure’ for eczema –awareness and avoidance of the triggers is the key, together with management of the symptoms. Many people hope for that ‘one thing’ that will fix their eczema or prevent the flare ups. As eczema is a chronic and very complex condition that can be different for each individual, it is unusual to be ‘one thing’ that will be the answer.
That said, there are some hopeful new medical treatment options becoming available. Talk to your dermatologist about your options. We will also provide you with some tools and information to empower you to care for yourself or your loved ones living with eczema.
What else can I do to control or manage the eczema?
We obtained these tips from The Australasian College of Dermatologists.
Look after your skin
How is severe eczema treated?
Additional measures that may be used to control severe eczema are available but talk with your dermatologist about these and stay tuned here for exciting new developments in eczema management.
What about the impact of eczema?
The impact of eczema/allergies on individuals and families in Australia is often misunderstood, lacking in support and vastly underrated. Skin conditions, primarily eczema, are rated in the top 5 non fatal burden of diseases according to the World Health Organisation. This means that the impact on quality of life is significant. It affects people physically, financially, socially and psychologically.
Many individuals and their families are experiencing social isolation, anxiety, confusion and deteriorating health due to the lack of social support services specifically targeting those with complex and chronic allergic/skin diseases.