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Symptoms of Atopic Eczema
Understanding what causes atopic eczema is the first step to prevention of this condition. Atopic eczema is an allergic reaction caused by direct contact with a substance to which one has developed an allergic reaction due to an acquired sensitivity. The sensitivity displays itself as an itchy rash or lesion appearing on the skin surface. The area around the lesion or rash often appears red and inflamed. Any variety of factors may trigger this reaction although some of the most common include: a plant such as poison ivy or poison sumac, grass or weeds, environmental factors such as heat, humidity, pollution or acid rain, pollen, dust mites and pet dander, exposure to chemicals either in household cleaners or even in soaps and detergents, fabric softeners, even the chemicals in perfumes, lotions and creams. Foods have long been a culprit in atopic eczema flares. Some of the main sources of an allergic reaction to foods would include peanuts, milk, wheat, eggs, soy based proteins, preservatives and additives used to extend the shelf life of foods, even certain food dyes added to enhance the color or appearance of the food.
The intensity of an atopic eczema reaction is dependent on several factors – the length of exposure, stress, dehydration, genetics, and the alkaline pH at the time of exposure. If the body is in an acidic state, the reaction is more severe due to the body being already compromised by the acidic levels.
A mild eczema flare involves a small confines area usually consisting of one to two patches of inflamed skin. Mild stage atopic eczema is more often confines to the skin on the elbows, wrists or behind the knees. Mild stage atopic eczema will display rare flares in the condition with long periods of remission in between.
Mild stage atopic eczema exhibits one or more of the following characteristic symptoms:
- Onset of the condition begins at an early age
- An increased susceptibility to skin infections
- High levels of immunoglobulin E (IgE), an antibody, in the blood
- Patches of rough, dry skin
- Positive testing for allergies
- Ichthyosis which is dry, scaling areas characterized by skin that has become very thin or thickened as the condition progresses
- Hand or foot eczema- athlete’s foot would be under this category
- Nipple eczema
- Hyperlinear palms which is increased number and depth of lines in the skin on the palms of the hands
- Keratosis pilaris which are rough patches of skin displaying small, acne-like bumps
- Cheilitis which is a chronic inflammation and swelling in which the lips become very dry and often the skin exhibits cracking, fissures, and peeling.
Advanced stages of atopic eczema involve multiple areas of skin with flares that can last anywhere from several weeks to months at a time. The more prolonged duration of each episode contribute to added stress which can worsen and intensify the condition. The symptoms include those listed above but generally to a more intense degree. The itching becomes more intense, the increased scratching can lead to breaks and fissures in the skin which are susceptible to infection. Other symptoms one may observe include:
- Small raised bumps or papules that may break open when scratched and become crusty and infected.
- Lichenification is a process in which the affected skin becomes thick, leathery as a result of constant scratching and rubbing.
- Urticaria or hives is a process in the skin develops red raised bumps due to exposure to an allergen. This may occur at the beginning of a flare, or following exercise, a hot bath or a shower.
- Hyperpigmented eyelids are a process in which the eyelids that have become darker in color from inflammation or hay fever. The eyelids may appear slightly bruised, reddish or discolored.
- Dennie-Morgan fold is an extra fold of skin that develops under the eye.
- Neurodermatitis is a term used to describe the chronic eruption of the skin that results from continuous itching and scratching.
Treatment should begin by soothing the area of irritation, then identify and isolate the possible triggers or causes. Access the acidity levels and work to neutralize or achieve an alkaline balance.
Currently, there is no single test that says unequivocally "this is atopic eczema" and there is no single symptom or feature that can be used to identify the disease. The redness, rash, itching, flaking and blistering symptoms common to eczema are actually the byproducts of a unique bio-chemical interaction between pollutants, pollens and allergens in the environment and our skin. When the protective outer layer of skin is breached through cuts, fissures or abrasions of the skin’s surface, the immune system is triggered into action or reaction and the result are the identified symptoms of eczema.
This breach of the top layer of the skin may occur due to penetration of the surface through insect bites or stings, chemicals or detergents that overly dry the skin allowing small cracks in the surface to form, or injury to the skin from cuts, bruises or scrapes. This breach in the protective upper layer of skin triggers the immune system to send antibodies through our blood stream to the site of the breach.
As the immune system is triggered into a response, the visible result is evident by the surface redness, itchy, blisters or flaking that we identify as eczema.
A thin layer of jojoba or similar oil applied to the skin’s surface can act to shore up the protective barrier of the skin through a thin coating on the surface of the skin, this can allow the immune system valuable time to heal the breach at the skin’s surface.
There are many things that can trigger an episode of eczema. The triggers themselves are as varied and numerous as the varieties of eczema itself. Our environment – physical, emotional and internal are all the triggers for eczema. In other words, everything you come in contact with can be considered a trigger for an episode of eczema itching and rash. You emotions can trigger your eczema, at any time stress and frustration can cause an eczema rash or cause an existing rash episode to intensify. Our internal immune system controls and triggers the itching reaction to a perceived internal or external threat within our body.
In the right set of circumstances everything is a trigger for eczema but some things are more prone to set off an itching reaction. If we can learn to identify, control and manage the triggers that cause a more aggressive or intense reaction, our immune system will be better able to handle the less intense or less impactful triggers.
Let’s consider first how something triggers an eczema itching response. The physical or internal contact with a chemical, food or even heat can initialize our body to perceive it as an attack and the immune system response rushes blood cells to the site of internal or external contact. The body sees the trigger as a foreign entity and our natural defenses travel through the blood cells to the site of impact to protect the body. You may feel as if there is a battle raging on your skin as it welts up, turns red and itches and in fact there is.
Controlling Atopic Eczema
To control eczema, we must find a way to control or minimize the body’s defensive reaction. One way is to form a barrier between the outer layer of skin and anything it may come in contact with that triggers your rash. Because we are all different, our body’s all respond differently to different triggers. Find out what is triggering your eczema rash and find a way to reduce or eliminate your contact with it. Some of the more common skin contact triggers include, your own body perspiration and sweat, fabric softeners, detergents, soaps, perfumes, the oils, tannins and acids in the skins of citrus fruits, nuts, tomatoes, and potatoes. Dust, dander, pollen and insect bites are all common triggers. The chemicals used in perfumes, dyes, cleaning solutions and blended fabrics can all cause eczema itching.
Anything that causes your skin to loose moisture or cause excessive skin dryness will create little fissures or cracks in the skin that allow anything you come in contact with to penetrate the skin’s surface and trigger a more intense or severe eczema response. Keeping the skin well hydrated helps to bolster the skin’s defenses and helps to minimize an eczema rash response.
Allergens are substances from foods, plants, or animals that provoke an overreaction of the immune system and cause inflammation (in this case, the skin). Inflammation can occur even when the person is exposed to small amounts of the allergen for a limited time. Some examples of allergens are pollen and dog or cat dander (tiny particles from the animal's skin or hair). When people with atopic eczema come into contact with an irritant or allergen to which they are sensitive, inflammation-producing cells permeate the skin from elsewhere in the body. These cells release chemicals that cause itching and redness. As the person scratches and rubs the skin in response, further damage occurs.
Allergic reactions to some foods can trigger, worsen or exacerbate atopic eczema. Food allergies are a very prominent factor in the occurrence of atopic eczema particularly in children and infants. Symptoms of an allergic reaction to food may include gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea, skin inflammation usually in the form of generally hives, wheezing and upper respiratory tract symptoms such as congestion or sneezing. The most common food allergy culprits include dairy products, eggs, wheat and some other grains, soy based products, peanuts, and shell fish. It has been suggested that in cases of a family history of atopic diseases and allergies, expectant mothers should avoid those foods during the third trimester of pregnancy and while breastfeeding. It has also been suggested that breastfeeding for at least the first four months of life can have a protective effect for the baby against future eczema episodes in families with a history of eczema and allergies.
Although symptoms of atopic eczema can be very difficult and uncomfortable, the disease can be successfully managed.
- Wearing cotton clothing against the skin and avoid irritating fabrics such as polyester and wool.
- Rinse clothes well after washing them with detergent and avoid fragranced dryer sheets and fabric softeners.
- Avoid extreme temperature changes as getting too hot or too cold can irritate the skin.
- Reduce the number of dust mites in the home by regularly cleaning and vacuuming with particular attention to bedrooms, mattress, and bedclothes.
- Stay well hydrated with water.
- Applying Eczema-Ltd III patented topical skin conditioner disks to the affected areas.