The word 'eczema' comes from Greek words that mean 'to boil over'. 'Dermatitis' comes from the Greek word for skin and both terms refer to exactly the same skin condition. Eczema may also be referred to as 'atopic eczema' when it is caused by allergies. It is generally pronounced eckzema, exzema or exsama.
Eczema is a fairly common condition. Statistics on eczema indicate that eczema affects more than 15 million Americans and ten percent of all children. Strangely enough, the condition appears to be getting more common. Some hypothesize that it may have to do with our increasing exposure to chemicals as well as other allergens.
Eczema is an itchy inflammation of the skin associated to a varying degree with other features such as:
- redness of affected areas of skin
- generally dry skin, which is often thickened in the areas that have been scratched
- lumps or blisters in affected areas
- signs of superficial infection such as weeping or crusty deposits.
How would you know that you might have eczema? Atopic eczema is often seen in families with a history of allergies. The individual may also have allergies directly. My son developed eczema when we were introducing solid food into his diet. In his case, he had a food allergy to gluten and when gluten was removed from his diet, the eczema cleared up.
However, eczema can also be a result of skin contact with a substance to which the individual is sensitive. These triggers for eczema will be unique. The same substance does not cause eczema in a person who is not sensitive to it.
In some cases, an individual may develop chronic eczema without any known allergies as the trigger. In this case, the individual will need to pay special attention to skin contact with irritating chemicals, powders, cleaning agents, etc. There are eczema creams to help alleviate the symptoms.
Particularly with chronic eczema, adherence to the basic elements of treatment will usually work well, but only rarely can the condition be said to be curable. With chronic or severe eczema it is unusual to be able to identify and eliminate a single agent causing the skin reaction. In this case, you will have to settle for improving the condition rather than getting rid of eczema altogether.