Eczema is a skin condition that causes itchy, dry, red patches, and can result in peeling, blisters, and sores. According to the National Eczema Association, it affects more than 30 million Americans. Eczema is a common skin disease in children but can occur at any age.
Children often get eczema during their first year of life. Eczema causes dry and scaly patches to appear on the skin. No matter where it appears, eczema is often very itchy. Infants may rub their skin against bedding or carpeting to relieve the itch.
In children of all ages, the itch can be so intense that a child cannot sleep. Scratching can lead to a skin infection. Therefore, it is important to learn the causes of eczema. These patches often appear on the scalp, forehead, and face. These patches are very common on the cheeks.
It is so common that people have given it a few names:
- Eczema (name most people use)
- Atopic (a-top-ic) eczema
- Atopic dermatitis
What causes eczema?
We don’t know what exactly causes eczema. However for most types of eczema, researchers believe a combination of genes and a trigger are involved.
People with eczema tend to have an over-reactive immune system. This when triggered by a substance outside or inside the body, responds by producing inflammation. It is this inflammation that causes the red, itchy and painful skin symptoms.
Research also shows that some people with eczema have a mutation of the gene responsible for creating filaggrin. Filaggrin is a protein that helps our bodies maintain a healthy protective barrier on the very top layer of the skin. Without enough filaggrin to build a strong skin barrier, moisture can escape and bacteria, viruses and more can enter. This is why many people with eczema have very dry and infection-prone skin.
Things that causes eczema to become worse
It’s important to remember that eczema affects everyone differently. One person’s triggers may not be the same as another’s. You might experience eczema symptoms at certain times of the year or on different areas of your body. Common triggers include the following:
- Long, hot showers (hot water saps the skin of natural oils)
- Harsh skincare and soaps
- Dry winter weather
- Allergens such as pollen, pet dander, and dust mites
- Perfumes/products with fragrance
- Chemicals (hair dye, nail polish)
- Scratchy, irritating fabrics (stick to natural fibers like cotton)
Signs and symptoms
Eczema looks different in infants, children, and adults. The following gives you the signs (what you see) and symptoms (what you feel) for each age group.
A child may be 2 or 3 months old when eczema begins. When eczema begins early, it often causes:
- A rash that appears suddenly and:
- makes the skin dry, scaly, and itchy.
- forms on the scalp and face, especially on the cheeks (can appear on other areas of the body).
- can bubble up, then ooze and weep fluid.
- causes itching that may come and go.
- Rubbing against bedding, carpeting, and other things in order to scratch the itch.
- Trouble sleeping.
- Skin infections, common due to rubbing and scratching.
When eczema begins between 2 years of age and puberty, the child often has these signs and symptoms:
- A rash that often begins in the creases of the elbows or knees. Other common places for the rash to appear are the neck, wrists, ankles, and/or crease between the buttocks and legs.
- Itchy, scaly patches where the rash appeared.
In time, it can:
- Get bumpy, looking like permanent goose bumps.
- Lighten (or darken) where eczema appears.
- Thicken, turning leathery to protect itself from constant scratching.
- Develop knots (only on the thickened skin).
- Itch all the time (only on the thickened skin).
It is rare for adults to get eczema. Most people (90%) get it before age 5. About half (50%) of people who get eczema during childhood continue to have milder signs and symptoms as an adult. When an adult has eczema, it often looks different from that of childhood. For adults, it often:
- Appears in the creases of the elbows or knees and nape of neck.
- Covers much of the body.
- Causes very dry skin.
- Can be especially noticeable on the neck and face.
- Can be especially bad around the eyes.
- Causes non-stop itch.
- Causes scaly skin — more scaly than in infants and children.
- Leads to skin infections.
The symptoms usually improve and worsen in waves (called flare-ups), but there’s no cure and it never totally goes away. Symptoms very from person-to-person, and although some people are able to manage their eczema, it can be more difficult to treat for others.