Do I Have Eczema?
Yesterday I heard someone describe an annoying person as "a rash." A good description because rashes are indeed, very annoying! Unfortunately, they are also common. Not a day goes by in my office that I don't evaluate a rash on someone's skin. By far, the most common rash I see is eczema.
What is eczema?
Eczema has been called, "The itch that rashes," (as opposed to the rash that itches). Eczema is, fundamentally, dry and itchy skin. Mostly, this happens through a process of repeated wetting and drying. For instance, eczema is common on the hands of someone who repeatedly washes their hands.Besides washing though, our skin naturally goes through this wetting/drying cycle by sweating. Because of this, eczema is extremely common around creased areas of the skin such as the elbows and the knees. Still, eczema can occur anywhere on the body.
What does eczema look like?
Eczema can have a varied appearance, but most examples appear as patchy areas on the skin. Small, disc-like patches of eczema are referred to as nummular eczema from the Latin word numulus which means "coins." In general, eczema is red and scaly, but this can be obscured by repeated scratching. Often times, psoriasis is mistaken for eczema, but the former is distinguished by silvery plaques atop the irritated areas of skin
What causes eczema?
As eczema is first and foremost dry skin, it comes more commonly when the air is dry. In colder climates where heating is required during winter months, indoor air is quite dry. This taps moisture from the skin. Even when we bathe and moisture is added to our skin, the dry air quickly removes this hydration.
An allergic component to eczema also exists in that people with allergies and asthma are more prone to getting eczema, and they often go hand-in-hand.
How is eczema treated?
When I discuss treatment with people regarding eczema, I present it more so as a regimen. Eczema is better prevented than treated.
When eczema treatment is needed, the most popular treatment is a steroid cream (although a non-steroidal option is available). The steroid cream acts as an anti-inflammatory and calms the red, scaly, inflamed rash. Milder steroid creams are available over-the-counter, but more potent steroid creams are available only through prescription.
Once the eczema is manageable, prevention is key - namely, regular use of a good hypoallergenic moisturizing cream. The cream moisturizes the skin and acts as a barrier to dehydration of the skin by dry air in the environment. It's especially important to apply moisturizing cream after bathing to keep the skin hydrated. This regimen makes for a higher maintenance lifestyle which seems difficult for some. Keeping that skin hydrated, however, is key to preventing the annoying, itchy rash.
In sum, eczema is perhaps the most common itchy rash and is caused by severely dry skin. Though steroid creams work to treat eczema, a preventative regimen can minimize the presence of the rash. Such prevention involves keeping the skin hydrated with moisturizing cream.
People with eczema (me included), go forth and itch no more!