Eczema

Author: 
Adoptive Families Association of BC
Source: 
AFABC Special Needs Database

Definition
Eczema is a skin condition which affects many different people of all different ages. It has varying degrees of intensity from dry, to cracked and bleeding skin.  In its most severe form, eczema can be quite disfiguring, however it is not contagious and the symptoms are treatable.

Causes
Eczema can be hereditary, passed from parents to child, or it can be a reaction to allergens in the environment, chemicals, or detergents. The individual’s immune system can react severely, causing irritated, inflamed, sensitive skin.

Characteristics
Depending on the type and severity of eczema the skin may be:

  • dry
  • red
  • inflamed
  • cracked
  • itchy
  • bleeding
  • weeping fluid

There are a few different types of eczema including:

Atopic eczema – This is the most common type of eczema consisting of intensely itchy dry skin which may crack and bleed in extreme cases. It is usually passed genetically through families. Most commonly it affects the skin where it folds or comes into contact with itself. For example, atopic eczema can often be found in the crease of the elbow, behind the knees, and between the fingers. It can be found all over the body as well but these are the most common places. 

Allergic contact eczema – This type is triggered by allergens which come into contact with the skin (ie: latex, certain metals, etc.).

Irritant contact eczema – Similar to allergic contact eczema but this type is stimulated by common everyday products such as detergents and chemicals that come into contact with the skin.

Infantile seborrhoeic eczema – Otherwise known as cradle cap, this type of eczema usually occurs in infants and will go away on its own after a few months.  This condition is usually not sore or itchy but dry and flaky. 

Adult seborrhoeic eczema – This type is characterized by red flaky skin on the scalp and sometimes on the face, ears, and chest. It is believed to be caused by yeast.

Varicose eczema – This type of eczema affects the lower legs of an individual and causes dry itchy skin. It is tender and fragile due to lack of blood circulation. Usually this condition affects older adults in mid to late years. 

Discoid eczema – Characterized by small patches of red skin, this type of eczema becomes itchy and can weep fluid.

Treatment
There is no known cure for eczema but the symptoms can be treated with medications and creams. Depending on the severity of the condition the treatments can be fairly effective. Keeping the skin hydrated and itch free is key to healing. The continuous scratching associated with eczema causes the skin to bleed and infection can enter the body. Although there is no cure, some children actually outgrow eczema as they mature. 

Emollients are used to retain the skin’s moisture and are usually in the form of an external cream. Steroid creams can be used to reduce the inflammation in the case of an intense irritant reaction; however, these creams are not meant for everyday use. Other possible treatments include wet bandage wraps, anti-histamines, and ultra-violet light treatment.

Complications
The sensitive nature of the individual’s skin often coincides with additional irritants or allergens such as hay fever or asthma.

This resource is by no means intended as a substitute for a doctor's advice or diagnosis. Any concerns you may have with regard to your child's health and development should be discussed with a professional in an appropriate field.