In this final article, we look at factors that can exacerbate atopic eczema and how to avoid them.
WHEN eczema was first discovered by ancient Greek physicians, it was its symptoms that gave the condition its name, which means “to boil out”.
Typically, these symptoms are signs of inflamed skin: redness that sometimes develops into rashes or boils, and itchiness that becomes worse after scratching.
Today, doctors have found that these symptoms are shared by many types of skin conditions. But the term eczema is used most often to describe a more specific and common cause of the symptom – atopic dermatitis or atopic eczema.
Atopic eczema is more common in children, affecting about one in five children in Malaysia.
“This is a portion of the population with inherited dry skin,” says senior consultant dermatologist Datin Dr Asmah Johar.
People who live with atopic eczema are roughly categorised into those whose condition is purely due to genetic reasons and those whose condition is triggered by the interaction between genetic and environmental factors.
The tendency to have dry skin leaves all people with atopic eczema vulnerable to irritants and allergens in the environment.
However, those who are sensitive to allergens in the environment are usually the ones whose symptoms are more severe, says Dr Asmah.
While individuals react differently to allergens, there are some common triggers that can cause or worsen eczema symptoms. Here are some that can be avoided or managed.
While stress does not cause eczema, it can worsen the symptoms. It is not yet known how stress affects those with atopic eczema, but stress management is often a vital part of eczema management.
One of the explanations offered on health information portal WebMD by professor of clinical dermatology at Columbia University, United States, Donald V. Belsito is that stress increases inflammation of the skin.
“During times of stress, the inflammation in the skin increases as a way to protect the skin from harm,” he says.
“So if you already have inflammation in your skin, as with eczema, stress will worsen your condition.”
Extreme weather or temperature
Eczema symptoms can be caused or aggravated by changes in temperature, such as moving from a hot and humid environment to a cold and dry one, and vice versa.
Hot and humid environments will lead to sweating, while cold and dry environments can dehydrate the skin further.
Both are situations that can irritate the skin and cause itchiness and inflammation.
A Danish study on alcohol consumption and atopic dermatitis (or eczema) found that mothers who had more than four alcoholic drinks per week during pregnancy, had a four-fold risk of having a child with atopic dermatitis.
According to a report by MedPage Today, researcher Dr Allan Linneberg and his colleagues at Glostrup University Hospital reported at an American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology meeting in 2006 that this is especially true when both parents have atopy (genetic tendencies to develop the classic allergic diseases).
The report also noted that in a separate study of Danish adults, those who consumed between 15 and 21 servings of beer, wine or spirits per week had nearly double the risk for atopy as teetotallers.
Sickness, sunburn and wounds
As atopic eczema symptoms are usually due to inflammation of the skin, anything that can cause such inflammation can exacerbate the symptoms.
These include general sickness, sunburn and breaks in the skin caused by scratches, cuts or bites.
Some of the ways to avoid these triggers include taking good care of the body when sick, managing itchiness with suitable moisturisers or medications and applying sunscreen appropriately.
Medications, lotions and jewellery
Eczema can also be triggered or worsened by lotions or medications.
These could be medications or creams that contain elements a person is allergic to. Common skin irritants in creams and cosmetics include fragrances, preservatives and certain solvents.
Occasionally, jewellery may also cause an allergic skin reaction due to its nickel content coming into direct contact with the skin.
It is important to consult a doctor to determine whether you are allergic to these components, and avoid or manage them as much as you can.
This article is courtesy of Beiersdorf.