Why have I got eczema?

Eczema or dermatitis, is a condition where your skin becomes sensitive and inflamed as part of an allergic reaction, this is called atopy and you may hear this condition being called atopic eczema or dermatitis as a result. Atopic eczema often runs in families and you have over a fifty percent chance of developing eczema if both of your parents had it.

You may also find that our eczema flares every now and then and if this is the case you may find that your eczema has triggers. The most recognised triggers are stress, hormone changes associated with pregnancy and the menstrual cycle, sweat, rough clothing, dry skin and perfumes and other irritant chemicals. Fortunately, in the majority of cases your eczema often settles in its severity as you get older.

The very first step in treating your eczema is to keep your skin moist and well hydrated. If you can manage to stop your skin getting dry and cracked, you will help to manage the exposure your skin has to the allergens and hopefully control the inflammation and itching as a result. You want to be using basic moisturisers with no added perfume or “extras”. Your pharmacist can advise on these. Moisturisers need to be applied regularly throughout the day and I often advise to apply moisturisers to babies every time their nappy is changed. This extra time spent keeping your skin well hydrated will pay dividends on your eczema control.

I would recommend that you do not apply steroid creams to your face or to children without a review with your Doctor. As your eczema is driven by allergy, you may find some benefit from anti-histamines. Remember that anti-histamines come in both drowsy and non-drowsy forms and you should make sure you pick the right one, especially if you are planning on working, driving, looking after children or operating machinery whilst taking it.

Having other allergy-based conditions like asthma and hayfever will also increase your chances of having eczema. Your genetics may make your more likely to develop your allergy but there are known allergens like house dust mites, pet fur and pollen that your skin often becomes allergic to. Eczema can also develop as a result of food allergy of which eggs, milk, nuts, soya and wheat are the most common.

You can also get hold of a mild steroid cream if the moisturisers fail to fully control your symptoms, you want to be applying this only to the worst affected areas, thinly up to twice a day and for a maximum of one or two weeks. Do not apply it broken or raw skin. The cream is called hydrocortisone and is available as a one percent strength.

Take a look at my short video series on eczema: http://www.askdocjames.com/medical-conditions/eczema/

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Ask Doc James

Dr James Thompson is a UK-trained GP based in London and the East Midlands. He graduated from the University of Southampton medical school in 2005 and has, since then, worked both as a GP at clinics throughout the south of England and as a freelance GP at a variety of practises throughout the Midlands. James has a broad range of interests within health and his approach to general practice is very much focussed on encouraging and teaching better lifestyle choices for his patients. He also has interests in medical education and, in particular, communication skills. In early 2012 James founded www.askdocjames.com, a website featuring various patient-advice media, but principally based in video. It's James' belief that "reaching the target audience, in the 16-24 age group as well as increasingly in the older age groups affected by a range of medical conditions," that video, YouTube, social and other new media is an incredibly effective way of getting the health message across. The videos cover a number of conditions, from back pain to menopause, cholesterol to sexual health, and the aim is to add topics to this on a regular basis. Each video provides concise and accurate medical information in a visually engaging way.

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