Atopic eczema

November 12, 2012

Atopic eczema

Atopic eczema is a distressing condition of the skin which affects a wide range of people from the very young to the elderly. Despite ongoing research there is, as yet, no cure for eczema, the best hope for sufferers is to control and ease the symptoms which, in severe cases, can be difficult.

What is atopic eczema?

Atopic eczema is an inflammation of the skin, which tends to flare-up from time to time. It usually starts in early childhood. The severity can range from mild to severe. There is no cure or known cause, but treatment can usually control or ease symptoms. Emollients (moisturisers) and steroid creams or ointments are the common treatments. About 2 in 3 children with atopic eczema grow out of it by their mid teens.

Atopic eczema symptoms

Atopic eczema is the most common variety of dermatitis and sufferers may be at increased risk of developing other atopic conditions such as asthma and hay fever. The presence of atopic eczema is indicated by some or all of the following symptoms -

  • Persistent dry skin

  • Red, inflamed areas of skin

  • Excessive itching

  • Blistered, weeping skin

  • Areas of infected skin.

Generally the symptoms of atopic eczema come and go with increasing or decreasing severity.

  • An occasional, mild flare up may include odd, small patches of inflammation around the knees, elbows and wrists.

  • Severe flare-ups can cause great distress and an overall feeling of being unwell, they may last a number of weeks and involve much or all of the skin.

Most sufferers of atopic eczema fall somewhere between these two extremes.

Atopic eczema is generally thought of as a childhood illness and it is true to say that most cases first appear in children under the age of 5 and by the mid teens 2 out of 3 of these cases will have disappeared. Atopic eczema does occur in adults but it is unusual for it to develop after the age of 20.

Treatment of atopic eczema

The treatment for this distressing condition can often be quite unpleasant and uncomfortable in itself.

  • Avoid known triggers – many sufferers will be aware of their own triggers and will take care to avoid them. Some however are unavoidable – such as the house dust mite, in order to minimize the effect of the dust mite living areas should be regularly damp dusted. The use of anti-allergenic bed linen is also recommended.

  • Emollients it is essential that emollients, or moisurisers, are used abundantly, several times daily. It is impossible to over use an emollient and the consensus of opinion is the more the better. Emollients help to prevent inflammation of dry skin developing and also help to break the ‘itch scratch itch’ cycle which plagues so many eczema sufferers. It is also important that emollients are used in place of soap products for washing – soap is known to be extremely drying for the skin.

  • Topical steroids when inflammation does occur then the use of topical steroids may be unavoidable. These are generally prescribed in diluted forms and must be applied in extremely small amounts – a thin smear should be more than enough. Long term use of steroid creams can cause skin thinning and damage in later life.

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