Eczema (or atopic dermatitis as it is formally known) is more common than many people realise and it is estimated that one in three Australians will suffer from it to some degree during their lives.
The condition is most common in people with a family history of an atopic disorder, including asthma or hay fever.
The condition can affect people of all ages but usually appears in early childhood (in babies between two-to-six months of age) and disappears when the child is about six years old. More than 50% of eczema sufferers show signs of the condition within their first 12 months of life and 20% of people develop eczema before they are five.
The good news is that most children outgrow the condition, but a small percentage may experience severe eczema into adulthood. The condition can affect the individual sufferer, as well as their family and friends. Adult onset eczema is often very difficult to treat and may be caused by other factors such as medicines.
Why some people and not others develop eczema is not well understood but it is common for people with eczema to suffer from other allergies, and this has led to a theory that genetic factors increase the likelihood of a person developing eczema.
The skin in people who suffer from eczema is different from those people who do not have eczema. In people with eczema the skin barrier does not work meaning it has less water-retaining properties, causing it to dry out easily.
There are many things you can do to help avoid an eczema outbreak and your community pharmacist can provide advice about this.
Some of the steps you can take include:
- skin should be kept moist by using a daily moisturiser
- avoid rough, scratchy fibres and tight clothing
- use rubber gloves with cotton liners
- have lukewarm baths and showers
- use a non-soap cleanser or hypoallergenic bath oil
- gently pat skin dry with a soft towel
- apply a moisturiser within three minutes of a bath or shower to “trap” the moisture in the skin
- avoid rapid changes of temperature
- avoid activities that raise a sweat
- if possible, remove carpets and rugs from houses
- keep pets outside
- air the house as often as possible
- avoid stuffed toys
- change bed linen regularly
- reduce daily stress