What Is Eczema?

    A man looking at his skin in his bathroom mirrorEczema is an inflammatory skin condition which is many times referred to as dermatitis. It is an immunological skin problem that affects approximately 3% of the population worldwide. Although it is most commonly diagnosed in childhood, it can affect all ages.

    Many times, eczema is referred to as atopic dermatitis especially when there is a family history of asthma and hay fever. Eighty five percent (85%) of patients who have been diagnosed with childhood eczema/atopic dermatitis will outgrow their symptoms of eczema by age 25. Fifteen percent (15%) other cases of eczema/atopic dermatitis began their manifestation during adulthood. About 50% of patients with eczema may have it for a lifetime.

    The word “atopic” refers to the allergic inflammation in the skin, mucous membranes within the nose, and linings of the lungs which is why many times patients with eczema/atopic dermatitis have a family history of hay fever, food allergies, asthma, and hives (urticaria). Just as there is no cure for hay fever, asthma, and hives there is also no cure for eczema /atopic dermatitis. As a result of the many factors that contribute to the flare of eczema such as grass, mold, mildew, dust, pollen, and certain foods, the management and treatment of eczema can be frustrating for both the patient and the dermatologist.

    Eczema can start in infancy and is many times referred to as infantile eczema. Many times infants with eczema will present with redness, scaling, crusting, and oozing of the skin mainly involving the cheeks, arms and thighs. Because of the severe symptoms of itching, infants and children will scratch and rubbed their skin to the point of bleeding and sometimes infection. It is a known fact that skin in patients with eczema tend to harbor more staphylococcal bacteria which can lead to super infection such as impetigo in addition to their eczema. The immune systems in the skin of many patients with eczema is compromised which leads to increased bacterial, viral, and fungal infections.

    Infantile eczema

    Eczema affecting teenagers and young adults can affect the trunk, hands, and feet resulting in thick, dark, and leathery skin. Because of the itchiness associated with eczema, scratching of the skin leads to most of the changes we see in the skin of patients with eczema. It is not uncommon to see the adverse changes related to eczema on the neck, ankles, and wrists in patients with eczema.

    By Dr. Frederick Quarles, BDO Dermatology Expert

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