I am willing to bet that you reading this will most certainly know of someone who’s got the (Eczema) itch. Not uncommon, the word originates from the Greek language and literally means ‘to boil over’. The most recent statistics from National Eczema Association, indicates that close to 17 million people have this skin condition which, is characterized by itchy, dry and red skin and most often, occurs in skin folds of creases like as the back of knees, elbows, neck and even armpits. Some forms may be widespread throughout the body. But while being fairly common in prevalence, the myths surrounding this skin ailment range from inaccurate to outright bizarre. To debunk a few…
Eczema is in fact, NOT contagious contrary to widespread belief. One cannot simply catch it from another. That being said, if the person’s Eczema-ridden skin becomes infected by a bacterial infection like Stap. aureus or by a virus like Herpes, then THAT infection could be contagious. People with Eczema are more prone to infections because the dry, flaky skin compromises the skin barrier integrity making it easier for pathogens to enter. If the ‘Eczematic’ skin changes dramatically in redness or begins to crust or ooze then it is wise to consult a physician.
Whilst Eczema isn’t sightly it most certainly isn’t a result of poor hygiene. Quite contrarily, repetitive over-washing exacerbates the condition. In fact, the OCD neuroses of most developed nations and the resulting sterile-like-bubble living conditions have contributed to increased rates of allergies and in turn Atopic Eczema; infants just haven’t been exposed enough to allergens to allow for them to build up immunity against them. So mommies, allow your offspring to get down low and dirty; ‘Outright grubby’ is what I’d recommend!
The aetiology (cause) of Eczema is multifactorial ranging from allergens like dust mites, pets, pollens, molds, chemical irritants, cosmetics, climate change, rapidly fluctuating temperature conditions, genetics etc. Some triggers can worsen the condition more than others like for instance stress, which while it isn’t a direct cause, definitely is known to exacerbate Eczema. Stress increases the hormone cortisol, which damages skin’s ability to hold on to water, increasing dryness and inflammation—two things eczema sufferers already have in spades. To help tame tension, take time for yourself every day by unwinding and relaxing in a manner that appeals to you i.e. a cup of tea or reading a book. Your eczema can be controlled, but learning to relieve your stress will be a major part of controlling your skin condition. Also do your best to get enough quality sleep and exercise regularly.
Some precautions should be taken though, when exercising as rapid body temperature changes too trigger a flare-up. Reduce the risk of irritation by moisturizing the skin pre and post your workout, stay hydrated and opt for loose, cotton clothing over synthetics like spandex. Further avoid very hot showers after as this too can aggravate itching. Don’t fear swimming pools. This is a big myth that surrounds Eczema that one can’t go swimming. You will NOT contaminate the water. To protect your own skin from the chlorine, apply a thick layer of moisturizer as a barrier before entering the pool and then again soon after showering. The National Eczema Association encourages people to gradually increase their time spent in the pool to help adapt to chlorinated water.
Despite having numerous triggers, food has NOT been proven to trigger Eczema. I have heard of far too many people giving poor, innocent gluten the boot because of Eczema. Sorry but unless you’ve got a diagnosed case of Celiac disease OR a documented gluten sensitivity there is no reason for you to ditch the bread or overhaul your diet and go for a kale/lemon-juice cleanse. Mommies, please don’t go on a food Nazi spree and cut out big food groups like dairy unless your child has a food allergy/intolerance because it’ll prevent your him/her from a balanced, wholesome diet.
How does one cure Eczema?
Well, you can’t. There is no known cure but several ways to treat and manage it effectively, ensuring optimum quality of life. With Eczema, the earlier the treatment, the better or else one runs the risk of skin thickening and hardening due to constant rubbing/scratching and this then prevents medication from penetrating through. Management includes bathing or showering in lukewarm water with gentle, non-perfumed soap cleansers. If possible opt for an aqueous cream instead of soap. Following washing, pat dry the skin (avoid rubbing) and use moisturizing emollients immediately to the skin to lock in the moisture. Topical steroid creams are invaluable to the treatment of Eczema as they reduce inflammation and flare-ups. These, however, must be prescribed by a physician with proper guidance on how and when to apply. Several companies market products with the term ‘Hypoallergic’ but note that the USA Food & Drug Administration has no standards that define this word. There is no science to back that these products are better than other mild forms of products found in the market. If you’re on a budget especially, best to stick with the inexpensive cleansers, emollients and medication.
And there you have it folks. No need to mentally twitch at that itch anymore because ‘rash’ is now backed by rationale 😉
Dr. Daamini Shrivastav (BA.MBB Ch) heads marketing, media and communications at Conceive Gynaecology & Fertility Hospital. She’s a self-confessed ‘all-thingshealth’ buff and besides being a Pilates Instructor, she is also founder and owner of #theRYELife.