Eczema is a common skin condition that presents as red, cracked, rough, and inflamed skin. There are many types of eczema, and the most common is atopic dermatitis. Nobody knows what causes eczema—but there are many options to treat this painful and embarrassing condition. It affects about 31 percent of adults, and in severe cases blistering can occur. Eczema is not dangerous, but it can be very uncomfortable and the blisters can lead to permanent scarring.
Atopic dermatitis is a disease that affects the immune system. Similar conditions, though not related to the skin, are hay fever and asthma. Sometimes, a person who has eczema as a child “outgrows” it, but that is not always the case. It is rare for a person to develop eczema as an adult, although it does happen. Even though nobody is completely certain what causes the skin condition, it is known that some foods can trigger outbreaks, particularly nuts and dairy products. Symptoms can vary greatly person to person, and can change throughout a person’s life. Environmental factors can also be triggers, including pollen and smoke.
There is no cure for eczema, but understanding your triggers, medications (topical and oral), and treatments to address the side effects of eczema, such as scarring, can help you enjoy a more comfortable life with this skin disorder.
Symptoms of eczema can vary greatly, and depend on a person’s age. Atopic dermatitis is most often found in infants, and presents as dry, scaly patches. They can be incredibly itchy. Most people develop this type of eczema before the age of five, and about 50 percent continue to suffer symptoms as an adult. However, the worst symptoms are usually experienced throughout young childhood.
Most eczema patients go through stages of outbreaks, usually triggered by food or environmental factors. In newborns and toddlers, rashes are most commonly found on the cheeks and scalp. They commonly blister and “leak.” Understandably, young children with eczema suffer from disrupted sleep and skin infections due to scratching. Symptoms in school-aged children usually present in the knee and elbow creases, buttocks, limbs, and neck. These rashes are more often bumpy and can range in color and thickness. When eczema outbreaks thicken through “lichenification,” they can turn into knots and permanent itchy sites. Lichenification is treatable at Spectrum Dermatology through a wide range of procedures.
Adults with eczema often have outbreaks at the neck and elbow/knee creases. However, rashes can also cover most of the body and be particularly prevalent on the face. Skin is very dry, itchy, and scalier than in children. Rashes can cause skin infections in patients of all ages, and the degree of dryness and “scaliness” also depends on how much a person scratches. This leads to further inflammation.
Treating eczema includes pinpointing triggers with the help of a dermatologist, preventing future flare-ups, treating the symptoms, and treating scarring or permanent skin damage. Your age, symptoms, and current health status are all considered.
Some of the most commonly prescribed medications are topical corticosteroid creams. These anti-inflammatory medications can help to relieve eczema symptoms, including itchiness. Although there are over-the-counter creams and ointments, they might not be the right choice for your needs and will not be nearly as effective as a prescribed medication. Systemic corticosteroids are another option, and are more aggressive than topical medications. Systemic corticosteroids might be injected by an injection nurse or taken orally. Due to the strength of this treatment, it is only prescribed for short time periods.
Antibiotics might be prescribed if eczema appears in conjunction to a bacterial skin infection, or an antiviral/antifungal medication may be prescribed for related infections. Antihistamines can help reduce itchiness at night (as they cause drowsiness), and a topical calcineurin inhibitor can help inhibit immune system activity. It can also minimize inflammation and help reduce flare-ups. Some eczema patients benefit from barrier repair moisturizers, which help to retain water in and along the skin.
Phototherapy may be recommended, which includes skin exposure to ultraviolet rays in a controlled setting. No matter which treatment plan is right for you, it is important to work with a dermatology clinic that is accredited by the Physician Dispensing Association (PDA) to dispense medications on-site. Eczema patients can receive both their prescriptions and medications in one visit. Find out more about how accreditation works, and why Spectrum Dermatology is one of the few Phoenix and Scottsdale dermatology clinics offering it.
If you also suffer from scarring or hyperpigmentation due to eczema or any condition, Spectrum Dermatology offers a variety of treatment options that range from chemical peels and microneedling to laser skin therapy. Skin damage is often reversible and can quickly be minimized.
Eczema and any skin condition can and should be treated by a professional. If you or your children are struggling with eczema, contact Spectrum Dermatology today at (480) 948-8400 and schedule an appointment.