Fact: one in every three Australians will be affected by eczema during their lifetime. Yes, this debilitating skin condition is more common than you think.
So, in the spirit of becoming clued-up about eczema, we’ve pinned down leading Sydney dermatologist Dr. Phillip Artemi, who’s kindly cleared up all our queries about the skin condition. Because like any eczema sufferer knows, understanding this disorder is the key to getting it under control…
What is eczema? And what causes it?
Eczema is often used to describe many different types of skin inflammation. The most common and most referred to skin inflammation is called atopic eczema (dermatitis). It’s most common amoungst kids, with 15-20 per cent of children suffering from this condition, whereas around 1-2 per cent of adults develop the condition. What causes atopic eczema is complicated – and involves a combination of genetic and environmental factors – but it is often caused by genetic abnormalities that affect the barrier of skin and its ability to hold moisture and prevent irritation by external factors. Eczema sufferers are also found to have reduced amounts of the important structural protein known as filaggrin, as well as an immune system imbalance that leads to an overactive response to certain stimuli, which promotes excessive skin inflammation. Surface bacteria, food intolerances and stress also play a role in eczema flare-ups.
What are the main symptoms of eczema?
Very dry skin is the main sign you’re suffering from eczema. You’re more likely to suffering from it during winter when humidity is at its lowest. It will typically present itself in patches; for acute eczema sufferers, small oozing, red, scaly, sore and itchy patches will be found, whereas chronic eczema sufferers will experience larger, drier and thicker itchy patches with more prominent skin marking because of long-term itching.
Is it possible to completely get rid of eczema?
Unfortunately there is no cure for eczema, so once you have been diagnosed with the condition, you’ll need to consult your GP or dermatologist for help with controlling flare-ups and to ensure you have long-term control over your eczema. The good news for children is that 60-70 per cent of them will grow out of the condition by early adulthood, however they will often still face increased skin sensitivity and problems of excessive dryness for the rest of their lives.
What can eczema sufferers do to prevent skin flare-ups?
The most important thing you can do is control dryness by maintaining high moisture levels in the skin. Prevention is key, so be sure to avoid all forms of irritation, such a dust mites, external friction and scratchy fabrics. And when it comes to things such as colonic irrigation, detoxing or eczema diets, there is no evidence to prove these are effective.
What is the best way to treat eczema?
There is no single product that provides a solution to eczema. However, what’s most important is that you develop a skincare plan that addresses the factors that can exacerbate the problem, as well as being prescribed the appropriate topical therapies. This means following these rules:
1. Avoid irritants such as harsh soaps or perfumes.
2. Protect your skin against friction such as carpet and grass.
3. Adult sufferers should keep their showers or baths short and warm, and parents should provide infrequent baths for young sufferers.
4. Only wear cotton clothing – wool, nylon and acrylic tend to irritate the skin.
5. Always use a soap-free, fragrance-free wash and moisturise a lot, as this is crucial for eczema treatment. Sufferers can look to brands such as DermaVeen, which are soothing for the skin. For very dry skin, a cream is better than a lotion.
What should you do if you have a terrible eczema flare-up?
Firstly, visit your local GP to discuss a treatment plan and/or a referral to a specialist. There are various products that may be used, too, such as a combination of prescribed topical steroid creams or antibiotics to tackle the infection. If required, antihistamines and wet dressings can be prescribed, and non-steroid topical treatments are also available. In severe cases, phototherapy and oral therapy are recommended.
Did you know eczema was so common? Do you suffer from it or know someone who does? Do you have any tips for soothing irritated skin?