Eczema is a skin condition that affects around one in five children in the UK. The most common form is atopic eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis. Usually symptoms start in very young children, often before their first birthday. This can lead to unsettled nights and misery for the child and the whole family, so it is important that eczema is diagnosed and treated.
At The Devonshire Clinic in Harley Street, London, our team of dermatologists can provide eczema treatments and bespoke skin care plans to help manage your condition.
What are the symptoms of eczema?
The first signs of eczema are usually little bumps around the hair follicles and coin-shaped areas of inflammation with red and sore-looking skin. These typically occur in and around folds of skin:
- Behind the knees
- On the insides of the elbows
- Around the neck
- Face, particularly around the eyes and ears
Eczema affects the upper layer of the skin, making it itchy, sore and inflamed. The skin can become cracked and broken, which is made worse by scratching. If scratched, the skin can bleed and weep, before crusting over.
What causes eczema?
The precise cause of atopic eczema is not fully understood. It often affects people who are susceptible to allergies. Research also shows that atopic eczema is partly an inherited condition.
All types of skin allergies, including those due to different types of food, can make eczema worse. Food allergens that have been linked to eczema include
- Cows’ milk
Eczema is also more common in children who have allergy-related conditions such as hay fever and asthma. It may be that environmental factors, such as dust, pet fur and pollen, can trigger eczema. Even the weather and temperature can have an impact on eczema symptoms.
If you have eczema you probably find you have long periods where your symptoms are far less troublesome. Your skin may appear to clear up altogether. Then your symptoms come back in what is often called a ‘flare-up’ and you may need to treat your skin.
Some factors can make a flare-up more likely:
- Hormonal changes in women – changing hormone levels during the menstrual cycle or pregnancy can lead to flare-ups.
- Stress – the relationship between stress and eczema isn’t fully understood. A flare-up can certainly make you feel more stressed but other stress may also make your symptoms worse
- Exercise – excess sweating during exercise can make symptoms worse
- Illness – even a common cold can exacerbate eczema symptoms
The psychological impact of eczema on children
Eczema is a lot more than itchy skin. Problems can be particularly bad for young children and teenagers:
- Behavioural problems – children with severe atopic eczema can be very clingy to parents and do not socialise well with other children.
- Teasing and bullying – the appearances of eczema and sore skin can make children an easy target for bullies. The child may feel isolated and withdrawn. Despite the increased awareness, some children (and adults) still think it is possible to catch eczema. It isn’t.
- Sleep problems – the itching caused by eczema can make it harder for children to settle into a comfortable and restful sleep. This can make it impossible to concentrate at school and can make behavioural problems worse.
- Self-esteem issues – as children grow into teenagers who are acutely sensitive about their body and their appearance, having sore and weeping patches of skin can lead to further isolation and even depression.
Infection and eczema
Skin lesions caused by atopic eczema can become infected, particularly if children scratch. A staphylococcus aureus infection can make the skin appear yellow and crusty. Additional treatment with antibiotics might be needed to clear this up.
Herpes infections can also lead to severe and sometimes dangerous flare-ups of eczema.
Living with eczema
Eczema can be diagnosed and managed and treated but it cannot be cured. You may continue to have symptoms throughout your life, or your skin will be dry and sensitive. Good lifestyle choices include:
- Avoiding harsh soaps
- Avoiding cosmetics and other products that do not suit your skin
- Treating flare-ups as soon as they start
- Taking good care of your skin, keeping it clean and moisturised
Our Consultant Dermatologists can provide assessment, diagnosis and treatment for eczema flare-ups, as well as expert advice on an individual care plan for your skin.