Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis)

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Symptoms of Eczema

Eczema affects the skin, causing redness, itching, and sometimes infections. When eczema worsens it is called an eczema flare. Usually there is no single factor for an eczema flare.

What causes eczema?

Why some people develop eczema is not well understood. It is common for people with eczema to have other allergies. This suggests that inherited (genetic) factors increase the tendency to develop eczema.

In people with eczema the skin does not retain moisture very well, which causes it to dry out easily. This makes the skin more open to allergens and irritants. These can trigger the skin to release chemicals that make the skin itchy. Scratching itchy skin causes more chemicals to be released, making the skin feel itchier. This scratch and itch cycle can cause discomfort, disrupt sleep and affect quality of life.

It is therefore important to keep skin that is prone to eczema well hydrated, by moisturising the skin every day.

Eczema throughout life

Eczema is a chronic health problem that affects many people of all ages, but is most common in infants:

Eczema can be associated with other allergic disorders

Many people with eczema already have other allergies, or can develop other allergies, such as allergic rhinitis (hay fever), asthma, food allergy, or dust mite allergy. Studies have shown that up to 30% of infants with eczema, with a family history of allergy, will develop food allergy, and up to 40% develop asthma and/or allergic rhinitis (hay fever).

Eczema and food allergy

Many infants with moderate or severe eczema will also have an allergy to food/s. If the food allergy is not the cause of the eczema, removal of the food/s will not reduce symptoms. Managing eczema well in infants may reduce the chance of children developing food allergy.

In some young infants with severe eczema, removal of certain food/s may result in better eczema control. This should always be conducted under the supervision of a medical specialist (clinical immunology/allergy specialist), in association with a dietitian who has specialised knowledge of food allergies.

If the skin improves, foods are introduced one at a time as a medically supervised food challenge, to determine which food causes the eczema to flare. If there is no improvement in two weeks on the elimination diet, it means that food is unlikely to be the cause of the eczema.

Children with eczema and/or food allergy can have false positive allergy tests, and this can lead to unnecessary removal of foods. Therefore, allergy test results should be interpreted by a clinical immunology/allergy specialist.

Eczema treatments

Eczema can be well managed and the following steps may be used as a guide.

Maintain and protect skin every day:

Avoid known triggers and irritants, which may include:

Treat eczema flares or severe eczema:

Control Itch:

Prevent and Treat Infection:

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