Eczema is a reaction pattern that the skin produces in a number of diseases. It begins as red, raised tiny blisters containing a clear fluid atop red, elevated plaques. When the blisters break, the affected skin will weep and ooze. In older eczema, chronic eczema, the blisters are less prominent and the skin is thickened, elevated, and scaling. Eczema almost always is very itchy.
The specific cause of eczema remains unknown, but it is believed to develop due to a combination of hereditary (genetic) and environmental factors.
Children are more likely to develop eczema if a parent has had it or another atopic disease.
If both parents have an atopic disease, the chances increase further.
Environmental factors are also known to bring out the symptoms of eczema; these include:
Irritants - soaps, detergents, shampoos, disinfectants, juices from fresh fruits, meats, or vegetables.
Allergens - dust mites, pets, pollens, mold, and dandruff.
Microbes - bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus, viruses, and certain fungi.
Hot and cold temperatures - very hot or cold weather, high and low humidity, and perspiration from exercise.
Foods - dairy products, eggs, nuts and seeds, soy products, and wheat.
Stress - it is not a cause of eczema but can make symptoms worse.
Hormones - women can experience worsening of eczema symptoms at times when their hormone levels are changing, for example during pregnancy and at certain points in their menstrual cycle.
The most important thing to remember is that eczema and its symptoms are different for everyone. Your eczema may not look the same on you as it does on another adult, or on your child. It may even appear in different areas of the body at different times.
Eczema is usually itchy. For many people, the itch is usually only mild, or moderate. But in some cases it can become much worse and you might develop extremely inflamed skin. Sometimes the itch gets so bad that people scratch it until it bleeds, which can make your eczema worse. This is called the “itch-scratch cycle.”
What to look for:
Dry, sensitive skin
Red, inflamed skin
Very bad itching
Dark colour patches of skin
Rough, leathery or scaly patches of skin
Oozing or crusting
Areas of swelling
You might have all of these symptoms of eczema or only just a few. You might have some flare ups or your symptoms could go away entirely. But the only way to know if you have eczema for sure, is to visit your doctor so he or she can look at your skin and ask you about your symptoms.