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Eczema covers a range of conditions that cause the skin to become itchy, dry and cracked.
Eczema causes the skin to become irritated, dry and cracked. There are several different forms of eczema, with different symptoms and causes; atopic eczema is the most common form.
Eczema describes a wide range of conditions that cause dry, irritated and itchy skin. Eczema can be severe with forms including:
Eczema patients often have a family history of eczema and may also suffer from allergies, with the condition being experienced alongside hay fever or asthma for example. Eczema is more common in children but can affect people of all ages.
For children, eczema will usually get better over time, with or without treatment. However, for adults, particularly with severe eczema, ultra-violet treatment or eczema medication may be required to relieve symptoms. This may be available through your GP or our Consultant Dermatologists.
The exact cause of atopic eczema, the most common form of eczema, is not fully understood. It is not usually caused by just one factor and atopic eczema is usually closely associated with allergies (atopic means ‘sensitive to allergens’).
For patients, symptoms of atopic eczema frequently have specific triggers (the weather for example, or soaps, detergents, stress or certain foods). Diet or lifestyle can therefore affect your symptoms and the severity of the condition.
The symptoms of eczema vary from person to person. If you have mild eczema, you might only have small areas of dry skin that itch occasionally. More severe eczema can cause inflamed skin all over the body and you may find you’re constantly itching.
This can make it difficult to sleep, make your skin bleed, and cause secondary infections. If you have any of the following symptoms of an infection, you should see your GP as soon as possible:
As well as the treatments mentioned above, there are things you can do yourself to help ease your symptoms and prevent further problems.
Emollients are moisturising treatments which you can apply directly to your skin. They cover your skin with a protective film and reduce water loss – which helps manage the dry and scaly skin associated with eczema. They’re also a mild anti-inflammatory which can reduce redness and the number of flare ups you have.
Your Pharmacist or GP will be able to advise which is the best emollient for your eczema. For example, dyshidrotic eczema cream might be different from cream or treatment prescribed for contact dermatitis.
If your skin is sore and inflamed, your GP may prescribe a topical corticosteroid (applied directly to your skin), which can reduce the inflammation quickly.
Topical corticosteroids or other steroid creams for eczema can be prescribed in different strengths, depending on the severity of your atopic eczema and the areas of skin affected.
Prescription steroid cream for eczema is only available from your GP as the effects of steroids can vary for each individual.
Antihistamines are a type of medicine that can help relieve the itching associated with atopic eczema.
In some cases, your GP may prescribe medicated bandages, clothing or wet wraps to wear over areas of skin that are affected by eczema.
These can either be placed over emollients or with topical corticosteroids to prevent scratching, allow the skin underneath to heal, and stop it drying out.
If your GP isn’t sure what type of eczema you have, or if the treatments mentioned above aren’t controlling your eczema, they can refer you to our Consultant Dermatologists. Our experts will be able to arrange tests, review your current treatment and suggest other treatments which may be more effective.
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Dr Ayerst's specialties include skin cancer management, complex medical dermatology, male genital dermatology and dermascopy.