Eczema is a common ailment, often starting in childhood – even babyhood – and lasting a lifetime for the unlucky percentage who do not outgrow it. The good news is that many people who have eczema as babies and children tend to grow out of it either fully or partially, perhaps only having a flare-up once a year or so, or under extreme conditions. But what is it that causes eczema, exactly? Let us take a look.
Eczema is at core an issue of overly dry skin. Sufferers cannot produce or hold enough hydration in their skin, and when under the influence of an irritant, this causes the skin to break out into painful red patches which can be roughened, cracked and even broken, sometimes weeping or oozing, or even bleeding in the worst cases. Irritants are:
Allergies – sufferers can be allergic (mildly or severely) to anything from a particular food or food group, soaps and perfumes, pet hair or dander, grass, dust mites or any number of things. There is no way to know how severely a patient will react to their triggers as they can worsen or ease depending on the sufferer’s general health otherwise
Stress – being under pressure at work, worrying about a child or partner, having money worries or other health issues: all of these can cause a near panic reaction in a person which can cause physical responses, such as panic attacks, asthmatic issues, loss of appetite and sleep cycle disruption, or, of course, an outbreak of eczema. Psychosomatic causes of physical ailments are often misunderstood, with the uninformed saying things like ‘it’s all in your head’ – it may have started that way, as a mental or emotional response, but the symptoms are visible and very real.
Genetics – many people who predilection for dry skin will suffer from eczema and this is something that is passed down through the generations, so it is possible to have three or more generations of a family, all suffering from eczema to various degrees.
Eczema may present slightly differently in people of different ethnicities, showing up as reddened itchy raw patches on white skin, or as purple, dark brown or discoloured patches on black skin. Black people tend to suffer from the more severe types of eczema, especially as children, but the good news that they grow out of it more readily than other racial groups, with 20% of black children affected, compared to just 7% of black adults: a lower proportion than white and Asian adults, despite starting with a much higher preponderance in childhood.
Eczema may look unsightly, but it is not at all infectious, so there is no chance that it will spread – any simultaneous outbreaks within a family or household are more likely to be due to genetic connections than physical contact! Eczema outbreaks can be treated using hydrocortisone, a mild steroid that comes in tablet or lotion form that soothes and helps to heal the painful lesions.