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What Is Eczema and How Do I Treat It?

Updated on March 16, 2017
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Eugene is a qualified control/instrumentation engineer Bsc (Eng) and has worked as a developer of electronics & software for SCADA systems.

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A Distressing Skin Disorder

Eczema is a distressing condition that causes the skin to become itchy, red, dry and cracked. It afflicts children and adults alike. Multiple theories exist about the cause of the disorder, but none have been proven conclusively. It can flare at any time without any obvious causes; however, it can often be successfully treated. I have suffered from it on and off throughout my life, but thankfully in recent years it has disappeared.

What are the Symptoms of Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis?

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a type of skin disorder or condition which manifests itself as a redness and inflammation of the epidermis or outer layer of the skin. Often the area can be covered with tiny blisters filled with lymph fluid and the underlying skin tissue can swell as fluid is released. The surface of the skin is sometimes scaly and can crack easily. Itching is a constant symptom of the disorder and this creates an "itch-scratch-itch" cycle where itchy skin is scratched, becomes raw and irritated, leading to more itchiness and then further scratching.
Eczema is non contagious since it is a disorder, not a disease. However damaged skin may become infected.

What Parts of the Body Are Affected by Eczema??

Eczema usually affects the hands, face, backs of the legs and knees, elbows and scalp.

What Causes Eczema and Immune System Disorders?

Normal skin is made up of an outer layer, middle layer and inner fat layer. One of the functions of skin is to act as a barrier to keep moisture in and harmful substances out. Normally water and oil in skin helps to maintain this function. However if you suffer from eczema, your skin doesn't produce the same quantity of fats and oils and can easily dry out, become cracked, scaly and prone to irritation. The result is an overreaction of the immune system and classic inflammation symptoms such as redness, swelling and blisters.

Soap, hand washes and detergents can exacerbate the situation by removing natural oils from the skin. Cold frosty weather may also be detrimental as air humidity is often low and this dries out skin. Other chemical irritants and known allergens can also cause a flare up of eczema.

Eczema has a genetic component and often several members of a family will have symptoms of the condition.

My Personal Experience as an Eczema Sufferer

As a baby I had eczema on my face. It then disappeared until I was about ten at which point the back of my leg became itchy. Scratching led to irritation and redness and then further itchiness. As anyone who suffers from eczema knows, this "itch-scratch-itch" vicious circle is what tends to prolong eczema and keep it active. Eventually this phase of my eczema ended and I was free of the scourge for several years.

My next experience of the condition was when I was about 14. I was cutting privet hedges and had cut and scratched my little finger. I don't know whether this was the trigger factor but from what I can remember, the finger became itchy afterwards and soon I started getting this rash on my hand which spread from finger to finger and to the back of my hand. The symptoms were classic: redness, itchiness, water blisters, swelling and skin cracking. Over the next 20 years both of my hands became affected. The severity of the condition varied, ranging from a light rash to mildly swollen uncomfortable hands. If I got anxious, the condition worsened. At night I would scratch my itchy fingers and wake up in the morning with "angry" skin.

How is Eczema Treated?

Some or all of these treatments may help reduce the severity of your eczema:

Steroids

Hydro-cortisone steroidal anti-inflammatory cream is a standard treatment for acute skin inflammation and in my case it did help to reduce irritation and itchiness. These creams should be used with caution as they are well known to cause thinning of the skin if used for long periods.

Eliminating Food Products

Individuals who are prone to allergies may find that certain foods exacerbate their condition. You can try eliminating certain foods for a period and see if there is an improvement. It can be very difficult to establish a cause/effect relationship however because your eczema flare-up may disappear when you eliminate one food, but this may be just a coincidence because some other factor has changed.

Avoiding Soap and Detergents

I try to avoid washing my hands with soap or hand washes as much as possible, unless my hands are really dirty. Soap removes a lot of the natural oils from the skin, drying it out and making it prone to cracking.

Moisturizing Skin

Hand creams are essential to replace moisture if you have to wash your hands with soap/hand wash. However some contain alcohol and while I can tolerate this to some extent on my hands, I have found that many moisturizers irritate and burn the skin on my face.

On frosty days I noticed that my skin cracked and split. While I used to think that this was caused by the cold, I reckon that low air humidity on frosty days caused my skin to dry out, become inflexible and crack.

Avoiding Scratching

It's important to avoid scratching as this exacerbates eczema, resulting in an itch-scratch-itch cycle. Instead of scratching, try rubbing. Heat from a radiant fire or heat lamp is also quite useful for reieving itching. Small children can be provided with soft cotton mittens to prevent them scratching their skin while sleeping. Adults can also scratch in their sleep so mittens can also help. Keep finger nails short.

Avoiding Stress

Stress and anxiety seem to exacerbate the condition and cause a breakout of eczema in other parts of the body. While avoiding stressful situations is easier said than done, various techniques such as doing yoga and taking regular exercise may help.

Does UV Cure Eczema?

Around 7 years ago my eczema disappeared. I had been doing a lot of welding without wearing gloves around this time, and as you may be aware, arc welding produces lots of UV radiation. It might be just coincidence or it could be a serendipitous discovery that UV cures the condition! (By the way I don't recommend or advise welding without gloves!). I recently did a Google search and came up with this article about UV treatment: UV Phototherapy Treatment for Eczema

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In Conclusion

My eczema appears to have gone "into remission." Mild attacks occasionally re-occur but are confined to small areas of skin on my hands or feet. Usually this is due to excessive washing and scrubbing of my hands with soap, contact with washing-up liquid and other detergents.

Please Comment

If you found this article useful, please take the time to comment or share your experience below.

© 2013 Eugene Brennan

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    • susi10 profile image

      Susan W 3 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

      Hi eugbug! I find this hub about eczema very interesting and is well structured and well-written. As an eczema sufferer myself, I can see where you are coming from! I recommend trying Silcocks Base which is an emollient and can be substituted for soap. I have written my own hub about eczema called 'Silcocks Base: The Natural and Effective cure for eczema'. I will put a link to this hub from my hub and thank you for sharing this wonderful hub!

    • eugbug profile image
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      Eugene Brennan 3 years ago from Ireland

      Hi Susan, thanks for dropping by and the comments! Eczema is a peculiar condition which comes and goes and often flares up when one is under stress. Moisturizing is very important, because skin can eventually crack as natural oils are removed by over washing.

    • LWhip profile image

      LWhip 3 years ago

      Hi eubug, our children have eczema in varying degrees. I've read a number of articles about eczema and I particularly liked your content and style of writing. Interesting and useful - cheers!

    • eugbug profile image
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      Eugene Brennan 3 years ago from Ireland

      Hi LWhip and thanks for reading! I haven't had eczema for several years now, and I can't over stress that excess use of soap may possibly be to blame for worsening some cases of eczema. Moisturizers can also burn and irritate skin and make matters worse, so you need to experiment with different products. Scratching needs to be avoided at all costs because it further irritates the skin (Even though you really want to do it!). I have seen suggestions in articles on the subject that small children should wear mittens in bed to prevent them scratching and causing damage to their skin while asleep. I don't know how practical this would be though!

    • etaCarinae profile image

      Sara Johnson 2 years ago from United States

      I hope in the future, they can make some of the powerful corticosteroids available today safer for general use. You wouldn't believe their effectiveness, but the immune system issues they cause allow certain microbes to make you sick.

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    • Mariasha profile image

      Mariam 15 months ago from Rotherham

      Drink pure clear honey about 2-3 tablespoons every day and you would treat eczema. Please read my blog that I have wrote about eczema

    • nice1here profile image

      Christine Belcher 8 months ago from Napoleon, Ohio

      Hi, I have suffered from Eczema and did a lot of research. I have found chickweed and Dandelion herbs healed my eczema. I do continue to take them everyday. I am now free of Eczema!

    • eugbug profile image
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      Eugene Brennan 8 months ago from Ireland

      Hi Christine, thanks for the comment. Everyone's different so it's a good idea to try different options to see what works best. In general though, soap should be avoided, especially on hands which get washed more frequently than other parts of the body. Moisturisers are very important, but avoid those which contain alcohol and can burn sensitive skin.

    • nice1here profile image

      Christine Belcher 8 months ago from Napoleon, Ohio

      thanks for the information! Have a great day!

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      Anthony G 2 days ago

      Eczema really sucks. I've had it when I was a baby, but it went away until I turned 8 scratching is almost like second nature. I also go to school for welding ive done pretty much all processes of welding for a whole year so far. Idk about the UV rays helping when I did TIG my skin was mild normal eczema all over my body so still very bad. I use Vaseline as a moisturizer on a regular basis " constantly" my eczema does not want to go away I'm stuck in the itch scratch cycle or watever idk wat to do I monthly get ointment that helps a lil but I also used to take laser or light treatments, shots, crazy liquids nd creams if whoever reads this is a true Christian pray for me

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