The term eczema is used to describe a number of skin conditions which show common symptoms. These include inflammation of the skin, dryness, flaking and sometimes the formation of blisters. Eczema can be intensely itchy and uncomfortable.Eczema is also commonly referred to as dermatitis and affects one in eight children, although this may be an under-estimate. 60 to 70 per cent of children are clear of significant skin inflammation by their mid-teens. It is not infectious or contagious.
Atopic eczema is the most common form of eczema in children and is part of a family of other conditions including hayfever and asthma.
Infantile seborrhoeic eczema or cradle cap usually develops during the first year of a baby’s life. It takes the form of a greasy, scaly scalp and scaly patches which may also spread to other parts of the body. Although it looks unpleasant, this type of eczema does not appear to trouble the baby and often clears up on its own without the need for any treatment.
The effects of atopic eczema
Eczema can have a devastating effect on the person affected and on those around them. The pain and constant itching can cause great distress and can interrupt sleep, disturbing the whole family and interfering with many everyday activities.
The extra demands on the family in terms of addition washing and cleaning and the need to avoid certain irritant substances can disrupt normal family life.
Eczema does not have a cure, but there are very effective treatments for controlling the condition:
Mixtures of oils, fats and water which are used to keep the skin moisturised. They are available as creams, ointments, soap substitutes, lotions and medicinal bath oils.
Anti-inflammatory medicines used to bring eczema under control quickly. Most are available only on prescription and you must follow a doctor’s advice. Although a very mild hydrocortisone can be bought from pharmacists, it must not be used by pregnant women or on children under ten years.
A bandaging system used to control thesymptoms of eczema. It helps to reduce the amount of itching, making it easier to get a good night’s sleep. Wet wraps should be used on red, dry and itchy skin and should never be used on infected skin. Anyone wishing to use wet wraps needs to be assessed by their Dermatologist or by a GP who has had dermatology training. Usually wet wraps are suggested as a treatment after other treatments such as emollients and topical steroids have been tried and have not worked.
Evening primrose oil has been tried on people with atopic eczema. Results were inconclusive, some people found their eczema improved, others did not. Acupuncture, aromatherapy, homeopathy, hypnotherapy and reflexology have been tried with varying degrees of success. The National Eczema Society advises anyone intending to try a form of complementary therapy to discuss the issue with their GP and to check that practitioners are adequately qualified and experienced.