What is Eczema?

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What is eczema?

‘Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic skin condition that usually starts in childhood. In eczema, patches of skin become red, scaly and itchy and sometimes small blisters filled with clear fluid appear. Eczema is not contagious, you cannot pass it on or catch it if you touch someone with eczema.

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What causes eczema?

Eczema is a skin condition caused by an inability to repair damage to the skin’s barrier layer, caused by a combination of environmental and genetic factors.

Eczema can also be made worse by irritants like soaps and detergents, or environmental triggers or irritants like heat, dust or pets, even the weather. These irritants don’t necessarily cause eczema but can aggravate your eczema and make it feel worse.

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How is it different to healthy skin?

Healthy skin is like a brick wall: the bricks (skin cells in the uppermost layer of skin - the stratum corneum in the epidermis) are held together snugly, with natural oils (called lipids) filling the gaps between the cells like mortar between bricks. This structure forms the skin's natural protective barrier - helping keeping moisture in and irritants out.

When you have eczema, the stratum corneum in your skin is less able to attract and retain enough moisture. This weakens the skin’s natural protection barrier, which means even more moisture is lost, so your skin gets very dry.

This weakens the skin’s protective barrier, further allowing irritants to get in, making the skin even more irritated, so it may appear red. It’s important to try not to scratch your skin as this could cause more damage.

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What are the signs and symptoms of eczema?

The symptoms of eczema include

  • Dry skin
  • Red, scaly patches
  • Small blisters filled with clear fluid
  • Itchy skin

Scratching can damage your skin and it won’t stop the itch, in fact the more you scratch, the more your skin will be triggered to itch. This is called the itch-scratch cycle.

You might also notice your skin changes over time, and at times your eczema gets worse and flares up.

E45 skin school: main types of eczema

E45 skin school: main types of eczema

Speak to your doctor if you think you might have eczema or if you have any other concerns about your skin.

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How can you manage eczema?

Although eczema is a chronic skin condition, it can be well managed by maintaining and protecting the skin every day, avoiding known triggers and irritants and controlling itch. There are many things you can do to help. Manage your symptoms, and a good skincare routine can help keep them at bay.

The “brick wall” structure in the stratum corneum of a person with eczema is damaged. When your skin's protective barrier is weakened, less moisture is retained and more irritants can get in, causing further damage to the skin's protective barrier.

To help maintain the natural protective barrier of your skin, you need to keep it hydrated and healthy. Actively moisturising your skin can help it retain more moisture. It is important to moisturise daily, especially after bathing, and when living or working in an air-conditioned or heated environment.

When you’re managing eczema, it’s important to use the appropriate emollient for you as part of a personalised skincare routine. Your routine also needs to be something you can manage as easily as possible around other aspects of your life. The more it fits in with what you’re doing, the more you can keep it up and keep your skin healthy.

Find out more about emollients and using soap substitutes to help control eczema here.

If your skin flares up you should see a doctor or pharmacist.

This article is for general information only and not intended as a substitute for medical advice. All information presented on these web pages is not meant to diagnose or prescribe. In all health-related matters, always consult your healthcare professional.