Eczema: Symptoms, Causes, and Natural Treatments
Eczema is more than dry skin. It’s a painful condition that can interrupt your sleep, compromise your social life, and cause additional health complications. Fortunately, most forms of eczema can be managed with the right treatment strategies including natural eczema treatments. The first step toward living comfortably with eczema is to understand what exactly this condition is, how to recognize it, and where to find relief.
Consider this your all-encompassing guide to eczema.
What is Eczema?
The term “eczema” is used in a couple different ways.
The most common use of “eczema” refers specifically to atopic dermatitis. This is the most prevalent type of eczema. Atopic dermatitis is a chronic skin condition causing red, itchy patches. This type of eczema flares up periodically and often accompanies conditions such as hay fever and asthma.
There are other types of eczema that are less common than atopic dermatitis. All forms of eczema cause inflammation and irritation of the skin. Both the severity and the duration of the condition varies from person to person. Some individuals only experience eczema in childhood. Others live with it their entire lives.
Symptoms of Eczema
While atopic dermatitis is most common in children, the condition can appear at any point in an individual’s life. The most notable symptoms of eczema—rash, itch, and dry skin—are always present no matter when onset occurs. However, other symptoms may vary depending on the age of the individual.
Symptoms of Eczema in Babies
Infants under the age of 2 years suffer from symptoms such as:
- Rashes that appear on the cheeks and scalp
- Extremely itchy rashes
- Rashes that bubble and leak fluid
If you believe your infant has eczema, talk to your pediatrician about methods to prevent scratching. The more your baby scratches his or her rash, the greater their risk of skin infections.
Many parents mistake cradle cap for eczema. Eczema is more red and scaly in appearance, whereas cradle cap features rough, crusty bumps and is oily to the touch. Cradle cap often clears up on its own by eight months.
Symptoms of Eczema in Children
Prepubescent children with eczema display symptoms such as:
- Bumpy rashes
- Rashes that are light or dark in color
- Rashes that appear in creases such as elbows, knees, ankles, wrists, neck, and beneath the buttock
A child’s eczema rash may thicken. This is called lichenification. The process of lichenification could lead to knots and permanent itch.
Symptoms of Eczema in Adults
Some people who have eczema develop the condition for the first time in adulthood. However, many adults living with eczema first developed atopic dermatitis in childhood. And in some cases, individuals who experienced childhood eczema do not have the condition in adulthood, though they may still struggle with dry skin, eye problems, and hand eczema.
In adults, eczema often takes forms such as:
- Rashes that cover large areas of the body
- Rashes on the face, neck, and elbow and knee creases
- Extremely dry skin
- Permanent itch
Eczema rashes may also be more scaly in adults than in children.
Other Types of Eczema
While atopic dermatitis is by far the most common type of eczema, other forms of this skin condition include:
- Allergic contact dermatitis, a reaction of the skin following contact with an allergen
- Neurodermatitis, caused by an insect bite or other localized itches. This is recognizable by scaly patches on the wrists, forearms, lower legs, and head.
- Nummular eczema, characterized by circular patches of crusted, itchy skin.
- Dyshidrotic eczema, a skin irritation that takes the form of blisters on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet.
- Stasis dermatitis, a skin irritation related to circulatory issues. This eczema appears on the lower legs.
What Causes Eczema?
Eczema occurs as the result of a gene variation that hinders the skin’s ability to protect the body from allergens, bacteria, and other irritants. People who have eczema are more sensitive to environmental factors than those who are protected by healthy skin.
Triggers that cause eczema flare-ups include:
- Allergens such as pollen, mold, dandruff, pets, and dust mites
- Irritants in soaps, shampoos, detergents, disinfectants, meats, vegetables, and fresh fruit juices
- Microbes such as viruses, bacteria, and fungi
- Hormones, especially during pregnancy and certain phases of the menstrual cycle
- Extreme temperatures and humidity levels
- Certain foods such as dairy, eggs, soy products, nuts, seeds, and dairy
While not a direct cause of the condition, stress is also known to aggravate symptoms.
Who Gets Eczema?
Eczema affects all ethnicities, sexes, and ages. However, the condition is far more prevalent among children than among adults. About half of individuals who experience eczema in childhood continue to experience the condition in adulthood.
Those who have a family history of eczema, asthma, allergies, or hay fever are at increased risk of developing eczema.
How is it Diagnosed?
See a doctor if you or your child are exhibiting symptoms of eczema. If your child’s rash appears to be infected or the child has a fever, seek medical attention immediately.
A doctor diagnoses eczema by examining the affected area. There are no lab tests to determine whether a patient has this condition.
Is Eczema Contagious?
Eczema is not contagious. All treatments for this condition are in the interest of providing relief to the person affected and preventing flare-ups. Eczema cannot be cured and does not spread to others.
Complications from Eczema
Eczema is associated with a few additional health problems and side effects. Potential complications include:
- Asthma and hay fever. Over 50% of children who have atopic dermatitis also develop hay fever and asthma before the age of 13.
- Skin infections. Due to the extreme itch of eczema, patients run the risk of breaking the skin through excessive scratching. This leads to an increased risk of infection from bacteria and viruses such as the herpes simplex virus.
- Irritant hand dermatitis. Those who often expose their hands to moisture and harsh soaps are especially vulnerable to this condition.
- Allergic contact dermatitis.
- Chronic itchy, scaly skin. Over time, the skin may become thick, leathery, and discolored.
In order to live comfortably with eczema, individuals who have the condition should take measures to support skin health. Common preventative efforts include:
- Take shorter showers. Try to keep your bath or shower under 15 minutes, and use warm water. Hot water dries the skin.
- Get to know your specific triggers so you can avoid them in your daily life. This could mean changing soaps, cutting certain foods from your diet, stress reduction techniques, and other methods.
- Choose soft, breathable fabrics over rough fibers and tight-fitted clothing.
- After bathing, pat the skin dry instead of rubbing.
- Use a humidifier in dry weather.
- Switch to mild soaps and detergents.
Natural Eczema Treatments
There are several options for treating the symptoms of eczema. It is absolutely essential to discuss these options with your doctor to ensure you’re using the treatment that is right for you.
Living with Eczema
Depending on the severity of the condition, eczema can be an irritation or a painful interruption to daily life. Those who have eczema deal not only with itching and dryness, but also with self-consciousness and self-esteem issues. The discomfort caused by this skin condition often interrupts sleep, leading to fatigue and compromised health.
However, the right combination of treatment and preventative strategies can push eczema into the background of your life. If you or your child shows signs of this condition, contact a doctor for a diagnosis and to discuss natural eczema treatments.