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Eczema

Medibank Health Directory

What is eczema?

Eczema affects one in three Australians during their lives.

This uncomfortable skin condition can cause dry, itchy and scaly skin; or worse, it may cause the skin to bleed, crust over and become infected. It is most common in babies and young children, although some adults may suffer from eczema, too.

Eczema is also known as atopic dermatitis. It is a recurring, non-infectious, inflammatory skin condition that is most common in people with a family history of an atopic disorder like asthma or hay fever.

If you have eczema, your skin becomes red, dry, itchy and scaly. In severe cases, your skin may weep, bleed and crust over, or even become infected. The uncomfortable condition can flare up and disappear seemingly for no reason; and the constant itchiness and discomfort can affect your quality of life.

Eczema usually first appears in babies between two and six months of age, and disappears around six years of age. Adults who get eczema for the first time can find the condition difficult to treat.

Symptoms of eczema

The symptoms of eczema are often highly visible, and may include:

  • Very itchy skin
  • A recurring rash, which usually appears on the face, hands, neck, inner elbows, backs of the knees and ankles
  • Skin that weeps watery fluid
  • Rough, leathery skin

Causes and treatment of eczema

Those with a family history of eczema, asthma or hay fever are more at risk of developing eczema than others. Dry skin, alcohol and stress are other triggers; as are skin irritants like smoke, chemicals, weather, and allergens. Food is a rare trigger.

If you or your child is at risk of eczema, there are a number of things you can do to help manage the condition. By making a few changes to the way you live, you can significantly reduce the frequency and severity of flare-ups, and potentially avoid having to have more formal treatment.

One of the most important things to remember is that scratching will only make things worse and can even cause skin infection – so keep fingernails short, wear cotton gloves at night, and don’t wear tight clothes or those made with rough fibres.

Other ways to manage eczema include:

  • Having brief lukewarm showers (so as not to remove natural skin oils)
  • Avoid perfumes and contact with chemical products
  • Avoid abrupt changes in temperature
  • Moisturise your skin immediately after a bath or shower
  • Reduce your stress levels

If these techniques and the other eczema coping mechanisms listed here aren’t effective, your doctor may prescribe a topical steroid or other treatments like coal tar, ultraviolet radiation therapy or anti-inflammatory medication.

It is important to treat your eczema as soon as it flares up; and to always maintain good hygiene. Sufferers of eczema can be more vulnerable to serious infections like impetigo, staphylococcus aureus, cold sores or warts.

Further information and sources

Disclaimer

This article is of a general nature only. You should always seek medical advice if you think you may have the symptoms of eczema.