Eczema is a fairly common skin inflammation. It is triggered by various factors and can occur at any age. In the case of eczema, it is necessary to care for your skin with an appropriate treatment. How can you recognize this dermatosis and what are the solutions to deal with it? Here is everything you need to know.
Eczema: What is it?
Eczema is a chronic inflammatory disease of the skin that progresses in flare-ups. It's very common, ranking as the second most frequent skin disease, following acne. Children are particularly affected by eczema, with an estimated 17% of 6 - 11 year olds suffering from it. Depending on the case, eczema can either disappear or persist into adulthood.
There are several forms of eczema. One of the most common is atopic eczema. Also known as atopic dermatitis, it is caused by an atopic genetic predisposition. Studies have shown that atopic eczema is often associated with mutations in the genes coding for filaggrin and other proteins essential to the integrity of the stratum corneum. This results in an ineffective skin barrier that easily allows water to evaporate and allergens to penetrate. Moreover, individuals with atopic dermatitis typically secrete large amounts of immunoglobulin E (IgE) in response to environmental antigens, causing disproportionate immune reactions when the skin comes into contact with a common allergen (animal hair, dust...).
Eczema can also be acquired and result from an allergic reaction, in which case it is referred to ascontact eczema. The reaction is due to a specific substance that the skin cannot tolerate. Another form of eczema is thenummular eczema, characterized by well-defined round erythematous patches. The etiology of this type of eczema is poorly understood. There is also thedyshidrotic eczema, affecting the hands and feet, and thedeficiency eczema, which manifests following a zinc deficiency in the body.
The symptoms of eczema.
Although considered a mild condition, eczema is associated with numerous bothersome symptoms and impacts the daily lives of those who suffer from it.
Red and inflamed, eczema lesions appear during flare-ups. Generally, they affect the face and neck, but also the body's folds. Initially red and warm, they are accompanied by a sensation of itching. A few hours later, small vesicles filled with clear fluid appear at the site of the red lesions while the itching persists. Following the scratching of these vesicles, they become weepy and the skin thickens (lichenification) before healing with or without scars.
During its flare-up periods, eczema causes significant itching that impacts the life of the affected individual. Irritability, sleep disturbances, fatigue... are all consequences of the itchiness.
An atopic skin is perpetually very dry, due to its inability to retain water: this is referred to as xerosis. The skin feels tight and uncomfortable, even outside of flare-ups. Certain external factors such as prolonged contact with water or the use of unsuitable products exacerbate xerosis.
Eczema: What are the solutions?
The solutions to soothe eczema largely depend on its origin. Indeed, allergic eczema will be relatively easy to target and the elimination of irritating substances responsible will be enough to make the reaction disappear. If the eczema is genetic, it is impossible to predict if the flare-ups will manifest again one day. However, it is recommended to use emollients daily. In the form of creams, milks, or balms, these rich treatments help to restore the skin barrier and replenish the epidermis.
To soothe the skin and alleviate itching during eczema flare-ups, dermatologists often prescribe topical corticosteroids. These cortisone-based products should be applied at the onset of a flare-up to mitigate it as quickly as possible. Sessions of phototherapy are also sometimes recommended. This method uses UV rays to relieve red lesions and itching.
Other tips exist to soothe itching. Certain natural ingredients such as honey, the aloe vera gel or essential oils of tea tree or true lavender are recognized to be anti-inflammatories, thus reducing itching. The application of cold compresses is also recommended, for fifteen minutes three to four times a day. Cold is an excellent soothing and anti-scratching ally.
GOLDENBERG G. & al. Eczema. The Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine (2011).
BORRADORI L. & al. Dermatologie et infections sexuellement transmissibles. Elsevier Masson (2017).