What is eczema?
Also called atopic dermatitis, eczema is a condition that makes the skin red and itchy. It occurs in people of all ages, but it is most commonly diagnosed in children. Eczema is typically a cyclical condition, meaning that symptoms flare and subside.
The severity of symptoms varies from person to person. Some experience mild itching and discomfort, while others experience symptoms that interfere with daily life. Eczema is often present in conjunction with respiratory conditions, such as asthma.
Symptoms of eczema include the following:
- Itching ranging from mild to severe, that tends to be worse at night
- Red or brown patches on the skin, most commonly around the hands and feet, neck and chest, and in the bends of knees and elbows
- Areas of raised bumps and cracked, dry skin
- Skin that is raw and sensitive from excessive scratching
These symptoms vary from person to person, and can be exacerbated by skin dryness, stress, changes in heat and humidity, household cleaning products and airborne allergens like pollen and cigarette smoke.
Serious cases of eczema can lead to the development of other conditions, including the following:
- Respiratory problems: people with eczema sometimes develop asthma and allergies.
- Neurodermatitis: repeated scratching can make the skin become thick and leathery, and discoloured.
- Skin infections: open sores that result from scratching are prone to infection from bacteria and viruses.
- Eye problems: some individuals experience itchy eyes, inflammation of the eyelids and conjunctivitis.
- Insomnia: chronic itching can interfere with the quality and quantity of sleep, which can lead to behavioural problems and decreased performance at work or school.