I thought it would be good to focus on eczema on Zee Companion, because it is something that can flare up during the winter season and in the UK, one in five children and one in twelve adults have eczema (Source: Patient.co.uk)

Eczema (also known as dermatitis) is a dry skin condition. It is a highly individual condition which varies from person to person and comes in many different forms. It is not contagious so you cannot catch it from someone else.

In mild cases of eczema, the skin is dry, scaly, red and itchy. In more severe cases there may be weeping, crusting and bleeding. Constant scratching causes the skin to split and bleed and also leaves it open to infection. Eczema affects people of all ages but is primarily seen in children.

So how does eczema actually happen? Firstly, it helps to know something about the differences between healthy skin and skin affected by eczema. Our skin provides a strong, effective barrier that protects the body from infection or irritation. Skin is made up of a thin outer layer, a fairly elastic one in the middle, and a fatty layer at the deepest level. Each layer contains skin cells, water and fats, all of which help maintain and protect the condition of the skin.

Healthy skin cells are plumped up with water, forming a protective barrier against damage and infection. Fats and oils in the skin help retain moisture, maintain body temperature and also prevent harmful substances or bacteria from entering our bodies.  If you have eczema, your skin may not produce as much fats and oils as other people’s, and will be less able to retain water.

The protective barrier is therefore not as good as it should be. Gaps open up between the skin cells because they are not sufficiently plumped up with water. Moisture is then lost from the deeper layers of the skin, allowing bacteria or irritants to pass through more easily.

Some everyday substances can contribute to the breaking down of the skin. Soap, bubble bath and washing-up liquid, for example, will remove oil from anyone’s skin, but if you have eczema your skin breaks down more easily, quickly becoming irritated, cracked and inflamed.

Atopic eczema is the most common type. The exact cause of atopic eczema is unknown, however, it often occurs in people who get allergies. “Atopic” means sensitivity to allergens and suggests that it can run in families and often occurs alongside other conditions, such as asthma and hay fever.

Apart from being physically uncomfortable it can also be mentally difficult to deal with severe eczema and a lot of adults feel frustrated and embarrassed about the condition. The NHS says that the number of people diagnosed with atopic eczema has increased in recent years, which could be because of changes in lifestyle or environmental factors that cause eczema, or because healthcare professionals are now more aware of the symptoms.

The most important thing we can do if we are susceptible to developing eczema is to avoid the triggers, whether that be food, stress or other factors in our environment, and moisturise thoroughly using a cream prescribed by your GP or suggested by your pharmacist. However, if your symptoms don’t subside then please do visit your GP as you may need to be put on some sort of medication, and hopefully only for the short term.