Eczema, which is also known as atopic dermatitis, is a common skin condition, affecting about 3 per cent of the US population. Symptoms of eczema include superficial inflammation of the skin, redness, edema, oozing, crusting, scaling and vesicles in acute cases. The inflamed areas are intensely itchy which can lead to uncontrollable, subconscious scratching. Excessive scratching can cause the skin to thicken and develop flakes, crusts and breaks, which can bleed and become infected.

EczemaAlthough eczema can occur at any age, it is most common in infants, children and young adults. It is a chronic disease with periods of flare up and remission and often begins in childhood where it is typically found on the face or groin. It can also affect the hands, feet and ankles. Asthma is often associated with eczema. Hereditary factors are likely to contribute to the occurrence of eczema.

Eczema may fluctuate seasonally and over the course of a day. Blood tests reveal increased levels of cells and chemicals associated with allergic reactions. A number of factors may aggravate eczema; including stress, mechanical irritation, heat, sweat retention, excessive moisture or dryness of the skin, and dietary triggers.

Treatment of eczema

The main goal of eczema treatment is to stop the itch-scratch cycle. Good general health and minimizing stress are very important. Wearing loose clothing, preferably cotton, which allows the skin to breathe; and avoiding harsh soaps, chemicals and detergents can help to manage eczema. Medicated baths and nongreasy moisturizers may also be useful.

The symptoms of eczema are often treated with topical, or in more severe cases, oral steroids. However, these drugs have several undesirable side effects, including thinning of the skin, reductions in bone mineral density, adrenal suppression and immune system suppression. Antihistamines may also be prescribed to suppress itching.

Diet and eczema

Dietary triggers such as milk, eggs, fish, milk products and food additives may also aggravate eczema, and it is currently estimated that 15 to 30 per cent of

children with eczema are affected by food allergies. In cases where food allergies cause eczema it is very important to eliminate the offending foods.

Low stomach acid is often found in eczema sufferers, and is likely to contribute to the development of food allergies. Improving digestive function may help to relieve the symptoms of eczema.

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