Eczema is the term covering skin conditions that cause dry, itchy, scaly and cracked skin.
Contact dermatitis is a form of eczema that occurs when the skin comes into contact with something that irritates it (an allergen). It’s common on the hands because these frequently come into contact with substances that may cause irritation. If repeated exposure to the irritant occurs a person may develop ‘allergic contact dermatitis’ which means only a small amount of the irritant is sufficient to trigger an allergic skin reaction.
The most common form of eczema though, is ‘atopic eczema’ which often runs in families with a history of other allergic conditions such as hay fever and asthma. This type of eczema mainly affects children. It causes dry, flaky and sore skin, often behind the knees, and front of the elbows. The condition sometimes flares up while at other times symptoms lessen or disappear.
- Skin becomes red and itchy
- Skin becomes cracked and may bleed
What causes Eczema & Dermatitis?
- Eczema flares up when an allergen (something that triggers an allergic reaction) irritates the skin. Common triggers include: dust mites, pet dander, eggs, nuts and cow’s milk.
- Eczema is largely an inherited condition although the responsible genes have not been fully identified.
- Eczema can get worse due to hormonal changes and stress.
How to treat Eczema & Dermatitis:
- Use emollients (moisturisers that reduce water-loss from the skin) frequently. These are available over-the-counter and should be used even when the skin is clear.
- Severe symptoms can be treated with corticosteroid medicines available via a private or NHS prescription.
- A GP may also prescribe antihistamines to relieve itchiness during flare-ups.
There is no hard proof that herbal remedies or food supplements help but some patients swear by them. Bathing in oatmeal is thought to help keep the skin moist.