Eczema varies in severity from a few small patches of dry, itchy redness to an extreme skin condition which can cover most of the body. In acute cases there may be weeping, crusting and bleeding. Atopic eczema is the most common form. The genetic pre-disposition to develop allergic reactions to substances, or “atopy”, is known to run in families and atopic eczema sufferers will often have relatives who suffer with the condition too, and perhaps also have asthma or hay fever. Other types of eczema include contact dermatitis which is caused by environmental or occupational factors and seborrhoeic eczema, which occurs mainly on the scalp and face, often starting off in the form of dandruff which progresses to redness, itching and scaling.
It might also be useful to look at environmental factors that may be triggering or aggravating the eczema. House dust mites, pets, mould, heat and humidity are all aspects of the home environment that can trigger a flare-up. There may be circumstances in the workplace that have an effect too – occupations at greatest risk of developing contact dermatitis for example are chefs, hairdressers, metal workers, nurses, cleaners and construction workers.
According to the NES children under five are at greatest risk of having their symptoms worsened by food allergies and it is thought that in around 30 per cent of children with eczema, food may be a contributing factor. It probably goes without saying that a healthy diet based on fresh, additive-free foods is beneficial. In addition some people are allergic to specific foods – a combination of homeopathic treatment, improved nutrition and desensitisation should help to calm allergic reactions.
Ten helpful tips from the National Eczema Society
- Bath in warm water, not hot. Heat increases the itch. Do not use bubble baths which contain detergents and will irritate the skin.
- Avoid soap which is drying to the skin, use a soap substitute instead.
- Apply emollients frequently and liberally.
- Immediately after bathing apply emollient as this will help trap the water under it and thereby aid re-hydration.
- Small children and the elderly should use a bath mat as emollients can make the bath slippery.
- Wash clothes in the minimum effective quantity of non-biological, un-perfumed washing powder. Give clothes an extra rinse. Avoid fabric conditioners.
- Wear cotton or silk next to the skin. Wool and man-made fibres can irritate the skin. Use cotton sheets and duvet covers.
- Keep bedrooms cool, overheating makes eczema worse. Warm, moist environments also encourage house dust mites.
- Keep pets out of the bedroom, animal dander can make eczema worse.
- Regular damp dusting and vacuuming will help to keep the dust levels down.