Dermatitis, or eczema, is a term that is used for any condition on the surface of the skin which involves inflammation, itching, redness and the appearance of tiny vesicles and papules which contain fluid and ooze with the formation of dry crusts [1]. While it may seem to be triggered by some allergen, eczema is not an allergic disease.

The disease is fairly widespread and is quite common all over the world, with younger children and infants being more prone to encountering the condition. Eczema can prove to be a one-time condition for some people while it proves to be a chronic condition for others. Dermatitis is also linked to some complications which may prove to be quite nasty.

Eczema is not a serious life-threatening condition, although it may cause quite a lot of discomfort in individuals and it may greatly reduce the quality of life due to excessive scratching and itching. It is very often seen that eczema sufferers miss out on their sleep time due to problems with scratching and itching.

While there can be different types of eczema that may prove to affect an individual, the signs and symptoms of the disease manifest themselves in the form of rashes and inflammation on the surface of the skin. This inflammation of the skin is irritating and results in sufferers scratching the skin. Excessive scratching may lead to a rupture of the tissue and this may cause liquid to ooze out of the area, leading to skin infections and other complications. Eczema is most commonly characterized by the formation of small pustules or vesicles on the surface of the skin, accompanied by redness, inflammation and excessive itching.

Managing the signs and symptoms and healing of the damaged skin tissue are the treatment remedies for eczema sufferers. While there is still no complete cure to the condition, the signs and symptoms of the disease can easily be managed with the help of medication, home remedies and by avoiding the exposure of the skin to irritants.

Unfortunately, the exact causes behind eczema remain largely unknown and this makes it really difficult to find a proper cure or treatment for the disease. In case you suspect that your inflammation may be linked to dermatitis or eczema and are experiencing discomfort, a visit to the doctor should be done at the earliest. Early diagnosis can help determine whether the condition is that of eczema, what the prognosis of the condition is, whether there are any complications and can also prove to help in reducing the course or the duration of the condition.

Causes of Eczema

Experts have argued over what could be the possible cause of eczema and there is no conclusive answer [2]. While it is still debated, many experts and medical professionals believe that dermatitis occurs due to a combination of genetic factors which prove to be triggered by environmental factors.

Some of the other reasons that are suspected to surround eczema include:

  • Genetics: Eczema is considered to be a hereditary transmitted disease. The genes of an individual carry this disease of skin from one generation to another causing sensitivity of the skin. People who have family members suffering from allergies like asthma, hay fever or eczema are more likely to inherit eczema.
  • Auto-immunity: An immune system response to the body’s own cells may also lead to eczema. Bacterial infections may also lead to abnormal immunity that may cause eczema.
  • Lack of protective barriers in skin: It is believed that any defect in the natural skin barrier can lead to eczema. For instance, when the skin is naturally dry.
  • Conditions that lead to dryness of the skin: Dryness or loss of moisture from the skin may allow the allergic germs to enter in the body through skin. This kind of dryness of skin may be brought about due to the following factors:
    • When the living conditions are either extremely hot or extremely cold
    • Living in an area with dry climate for most of the year
    • In winter season due to lack of moisture in air
    • In people who do not use lubricants such as oil over their skin especially after a bath.
    • Prolonged exposure of the skin to water
    • Exposure to cold immediately after sweating

Environmental conditions: Some specific environmental conditions may trigger an allergic response in the body leading to dermatitis or eczema. Urbanization, exposure to polluting agents or cold and dry climate may cause eczema. Some of the known environmental conditions which prove to trigger eczema include:

  • Irritants such as detergents, soaps and shampoos, disinfectants, some juices obtained from fresh vegetables or fruits and some types of meat
  • Allergens such as dust mites, molds, pollen, pets and also dandruff
  • Some specific types of microbes such as the bacteria Staphylococcus aureus, certain types of fungi and also some viruses
  • Lengthy exposure to hot or cold weather and also conditions of extremely high or low humidity
  • Some certain food types such as wheat, nuts, dairy products, soy products, nuts, seeds and eggs may contain allergens which can trigger eczema

Poor circulation of blood and fluids especially in the lower extremities of the body may also lead to a buildup of pressure in the blood capillaries. This high pressure may cause inflammation of the skin causing a bout of what is known as statis dermatitis.

Certain activities may cause the skin of an individual to be more sensitive than usual and in such cases the risk of contracting the disease is higher [3]. There may also be some defects in the barrier of the skin which can lead to moisture and germs moving in and out of the skin. In such cases, the individual lies at a much higher risk of developing eczema skin conditions.

There are certain factors that can trigger eczema. These factors may not prove to cause eczema but they may worsen the condition of a person with eczema. Common triggers include substances that irritate the surface of the skin. Some of these triggers include:

  • Stress can prove to lower the immunity of the body and can worsen the signs and symptoms of eczema
  • Contact of the skin with certain irritants present in soaps and cleansers, perfumes, makeup, chlorine, natural irritants in the environment like dust and sand, pollen grains, dander, solvents, etc.
  • Cigarette smoking may trigger eczema as well
  • Excess exposure to heat and also sweating
  • Lengthy exposure to cold and dry climates
  • Having a flu or cold may also trigger a flare
  • A bacterial infection, or an allergic reaction to mold or pollen can also trigger a bout of eczema
  • Women in pregnancy or at the start of menstrual cycles experience a high discharge of hormones and if eczema is encountered at such a stage, situations may prove to worsen

Temporary dermatitis may be triggered by an exposure to irritants and is known as contact dermatitis. This acute condition usually subsides and signs and symptoms of the condition do not reappear.

Some of the commonly agreed upon risk factors that increase the chances of an individual suffering from eczema include the following:

  • A history of eczema personally or in the family history, or occurrences of seasonal allergies or asthma in the family
  • Some health care workers are exposed to a number of chemicals and this leaves them more prone to developing dermatitis
  • While it is still unclear, it has been observed that individuals of African American descent are more prone to contracting the disease
  • Living in an urban, cold and dry environment also increases the chances of developing dermatitis.
  • It has also been observed that there is some sort of correlation between dermatitis and having attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children
  • It has been observed that children born to mothers at an older age are more prone to developing eczema than children who are born to younger mothers

Myths and Facts about Eczema

There are several myths or wrong beliefs which surround eczema. These must always be distinguished from the facts about the disease.

Here are some of the facts about the skin condition:

  • Contagious: Eczema is not a contagious disease and it cannot be transmitted from one individual to another through direct body contact.
  • Hereditary: Eczema is strongly believed to be a hereditary disease which leaves individuals more prone to the condition if there has been a history of eczema, asthma or seasonal allergies such as hay fever in the family.
  • Development of allergies: A large percentage of eczema sufferers who are children will go on to develop certain allergies including asthma later on in life.
  • Allergic reaction: Eczema is nor caused or triggered by any allergies. It may only be triggered by a few environmental factors. Many people believe that even food allergies lead to eczema which is not true. Thus the diet of the individuals with eczema should not be altered.
  • Age of the mother at the time of child birth: It is believed that children born to older women are more likely to develop eczema than children born to younger women.
  • Role of the environment: The environment may also influence the development of eczema and the disease is found to be more common in individuals who are from a higher social class, who live in urban areas and face higher amounts of pollution and are in a colder climate.

Eczema is an irritating condition that can greatly hinder a person from performing regular everyday activities and may reduce the quality of life drastically [4]. It is unfortunate that the exact causes and reasons behind the condition are unknown and that the treatment of the condition is only limited to controlling the signs and symptoms of the condition. However, with effective treatment remedies, the condition may prove to subside quicker and complications can also be prevented. Thankfully, eczema is not a life-threatening condition and it can be controlled by following some simple home remedies and by avoiding exposure to irritants and triggers.

It is important to seek professional medical advice at the earliest if any skin inflammation is severe enough to be causing discomfort to regular activities and if the skin feels painful as well. Such symptoms can imply a chronic case of dermatitis and in some cases, even self-care methods prove to be insufficient in controlling the condition. Eczema may also affect the eyes and this condition needs to be provided adequate medical attention at the earliest in order to avoid complications such as affecting vision.

It is always important to avoid scratching the rashes on the skin no matter how bad the urge proves to be. Scratching can cause the surface of the skin to rupture and this leads to pus and fluids being exposed. This can drastically increase the chance of a bacterial or a viral infection on the surface of the skin, as is so commonly observed with eczema sufferers.

In case inflammation on the skin exists with some infection and is accompanied with pus filled vesicles and streaks of redness on the surface of the skin with the appearance of yellow colored scabs, it may indicate a case of chronic eczema. Eczema can prove to be fairly common and widespread all over the world and it may often also be accompanied with a number of other allergic reactions occurring to the individual as well. In case there is any appearance of rashes and inflammation along with fever, it could indicate a case of chronic atopic dermatitis.

Most cases of dermatitis are not severe enough to cause too many problems. Simple measures and following some life style tips can greatly help control the signs and symptoms of the disease [5]. Dermatitis may however, prove to be a chronic condition and individuals may suffer multiple bouts of eczema flares throughout different points in life. It is important for eczema sufferers to try and identify the possible triggers or factors that may prove to flare up the eczema bouts. If this can be managed, then sufferers can greatly reduce the chances of encountering the disease in the future.

 

References


[1] Guidelines on sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS) exposure tests. A report from the Standardization Group of the European Society of Contact Dermatitis, Tupker RA,Willis C, Berardesca E;37(2):53-69- 1997- DOI: 1111/j.1600-0536.1997.tb00041.x, http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/9285167


[2] The epidemiology of hand eczema in the general population–prevalence and main findings, Thyssen JP,Johansen JD, Linneberg A; 62(2):75-87- 2010- DOI: 1111/j.1600-0536.2009.01669.x , http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/20136890


[3] Coin exposure may cause allergic nickel dermatitis, Thyssen JP,Gawkrodger DJ, White IR; 68(1):3-14- 2013- DOI: 1111/j.1600-0536.2012.02127.x, http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/22762130


[4] Atopic dermatitis, Rudikoff D,Lebwohl M; 351(9117):1715-1721- 1998- DOI: 1016/S0140-6736(97)12082-7, http://europepmc.org/abstract/MED/9734903


[5] Regulation of allergic inflammation by skin-homing T cells in allergic eczema, Akdis CA,Akdis M, Simon HU,118(2-4):140-144- 1999- DOI: 1159/000024051, http://europepmc.org/abstract/med/10224362