Our skin is our biggest organ; with a 3mm thickness, the average human has between 1.5 and 2 square metres of skin covering their muscle structure- that’s a huge area for us to look after! And when our skin suffers, we really feel it- from cuts and bruises, to a huge variety of conditions that are potential problems to us, there is nothing like uncomfortable skin to make us feel miserable.
So what if we develop a condition that causes itchiness and red, scaly skin? Our confidence is bound to take a knock; this is the exact reality for the vast number of people ( 1 in 5 children, and 1 in 12 adults) who suffer from eczema.
What Causes It?
Eczema, or dermatitis to give it its other name, is a condition of the skin that results most commonly in red, scaly and itchy patches, that may weep or bleed depending on their severity.
Eczema is extremely individualized, and differs from one person to the next. In some cases, an allergic reaction to an environmental factor may cause a short period of discomfort, whereas for others, eczema is a life-long inherited condition that results in skin cells that do not behave normally, and cause reddened, itchy patches. This is known as atopic eczema.
In this chronic version of the skin condition, skin cells do not behave like healthy, normal cells, which are plump with water and surrounded by oils that act as a waterproof barrier. This barrier not only stops water escaping from the cells, it also stops bacteria getting in.
In eczematous patches, the skin cells are unable to retain water, and are unable to produce enough oils to keep any moisture in. Before long, this allows the shrinking of these unhealthy cells, which allows even more moisture to escape and leaves them open to infection!
The result? Dry, damaged skin that can then become further damaged when it comes into contact with external drying agents- soap, cosmetics, perfumes, household cleaners- in fact, the list is so vast that it is often incredibly difficult to know what will exacerbate the condition.
And because atopic eczema is inbuilt in your genes, you may find that eczema moves around your body- what was once a healthy, reliable patch of skin may turn into an eczematous area as skin cells are shed, and new, damaged cells replace them.
Is there A Cure?
Unfortunately, there is no known cure for eczema at this time. All that we can do is manage the condition with a combination of treatments. Allergy testing is also available through a dermatologist, to find any agents that can trigger flare-ups; but these are fairly unreliable since the triggers can be wide-ranging. However, there are common triggers, such as dairy products, which may be worth avoiding to see if there is any improvement.
How Can You Treat it?
Chronic and severe eczema can be tiring and demoralizing. Sometimes is helps to hear tips and support from others who know what you are going through. Here are some online forums, which may provide some advice: