Eczema is a common skin disorder that manifests itself as itchy skin and a red rash; it is particularly common in infants and young children. Eczema most often develops as a result of an allergic reaction, or an immune-system malfunction. It can cause irritation and inflammation anywhere on the body, but is especially prevalent on the face, the insides of the arms, and behind the knees. In infants with eczema, the scalp is frequently affected.

Atopic dermatitis is the most common, chronic, and severe form of eczema. It occurs most often in those with other allergic conditions, such as asthma or hay fever, and who have family members with the same issues. Eczema is not contagious even with direct skin-to-skin contact.

Causes of Eczema

While the precise cause of eczema is unknown, certain substances or circumstances can trigger symptoms in susceptible individuals. Patients with eczema may have adverse skin reactions to many common household products, such as soaps, perfumes, lotions or detergents, as well as to animal dander. They may also develop eczema outbreaks as a result of upper respiratory infections. In some cases, eczema may occur from a food allergy.

Although eczema is quite common in infants, most outgrow it by the age of 2. For infants prone to outbreaks, it is best to avoid using products or fabrics that may irritate their skin, and to avoid feeding them foods that seem to precipitate reactions. For adults, too, the best treatment for eczema may be prevention. By avoiding triggers such as coarse fabrics, extreme hot or cold, animal dander and certain soaps or detergents, patients may be able to keep outbreaks at bay. Although stress is often a factor that worsens the condition, eczema itself, with its discomfort and displeasing appearance, can also be a cause of stress.

Symptoms of Eczema

Eczema usually appears as a red rash on the skin, and can include the following symptoms:

  • Raised crusty patches
  • Blisters that ooze
  • Dry or scaly skin
  • Itching

Skin discoloration can also be a symptom of eczema.

Diagnosis of Eczema

Eczema is diagnosed by physical examination and patient consultation. It is important that, in addition to a full patient history, the attending doctor take a full family history. Because many people with eczema often have other allergies, allergy tests may be prescribed or performed so that possible triggers can be targeted.

Treatment of Eczema

There are several treatments available to ease the discomforts of eczema. Cold compresses and over-the-counter preparations to address itching may be recommended. If symptoms persist or become more severe, stronger medications may be prescribed. It is important to treat eczema symptoms because the condition breaches the integrity of the skin, allowing bacteria to invade and cause infection. Itching has to be addressed because scratching can lead to crusting and scabbing of the skin, further breaking down tissues, and increasing the risk of infection. Treatment of eczema may include the following:

  • Antihistamines
  • Topical corticosteroids
  • Changes in bathing and laundering habits
  • Antibiotics (if infection is present)
  • Phototherapy
  • Immunomodulators (such as cyclosporine)

Because both phototherapy and immunomodulators have been linked to an elevated risk of cancer, they are usually prescribed only during severe flareups, and for children older than 2 years of age.

Sensitive Skin Care

Sensitive skin is a common condition that affects millions of people. Sensitive skin is defined as skin that may become irritated or inflamed when it comes in contact with certain products, substances, or environmental factors such as sun or extreme heat or cold. It may also develop as a result of other skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, rosacea, or allergies. Symptoms such as stinging, burning, and redness of the skin are common in people who suffer from sensitive skin conditions. Sensitive skin reactions may also cause dryness, flaking, pimples or even blisters.

People with sensitive skin should take precaution in caring for their skin by choosing products that will not irritate the skin and adhering to the following recommendations to protect their skin:

  • Avoid cleansers or products that contain acids, alcohol or retinoids
  • Do not use soaps that contain deodorant or fragrances
  • Gently wash the skin with a soft cloth; do not use an abrasive material
  • Wear soft, natural fabrics and loose fitting clothes
  • Wear sunscreen year round that contains zinc oxide
  • Avoid extended exposure to the sun
  • Take showers with warm water instead of hot water which can dry out the skin

Before anyone with sensitive skin uses a product for the first time, it should be tested behind the ear or on the wrist. If no reaction has occurred after several days, it is safe to use the product.

People who suffer from frequent rashes or reactions may consult with a dermatologist to determine whether they are having an allergic reaction to a specific product or ingredient. The dermatologist will review the patient's symptoms and perform a patch test. Dermatologists perform patch testing by applying the ingredient to the skin and looking for a rash to develop within one to two days. If a specific reaction is identified, then that substance can be avoided in the future.

By avoiding products that may irritate the skin and following a gentle cleansing routine, sensitive skin problems can be avoided.

Dry Skin

Dry skin, also known as xeroderma, is a common skin condition that can be uncomfortable and unattractive. Individuals troubled by dry skin experience redness and itchiness in the affected area. In most cases, dry skin can be symptomatically controlled with simple treatments.

Causes of Dry Skin

Aging, and its resulting changes in hormone levels, is a common cause of dry skin. In addition, certain diseases or environmental factors may cause the skin to become excessively dry.

Disease Conditions That Cause Dry Skin

Skin dryness may be caused by several skin disorders, including contact dermatitis, atopic dermatitis, a form of eczema, psoriasis, and ichthyosis, a genetic disorder causing a dry scaly appearance to the skin. There may be difficulty at first in distinguishing early symptoms of these conditions from more ordinary dry skin.

Eczema can usually be diagnosed because of the locations of the affected areas which are usually on the face, sides of the neck, and the backs of the elbow and knees. Psoriasis and ichthyosis, on the other hand, present as accumulations of rough scaly skin cells on many areas of the body. All three skin disorders result in more severe symptoms than simple dry skin and often cause psychological problems, due to altered appearance, as well as medical ones.

Other diseases, such as certain endocrine or autoimmune disorders may also result in dry skin. These include hypothyroidism, diabetes and Sjogren's disease. Certain medications may also cause dry skin.

Environmental Factors That Cause Dry Skin

Some of the environmental factors that may cause the skin to dry out include:

  • Exposure to hot or cold weather
  • Long hot showers
  • Dry indoor heat
  • Harsh soaps, shampoos or detergents
  • Particular dyes or chemicals
  • Sun exposure

Treatments for Dry Skin

For most people, the tightness, itchiness and general discomfort of dry skin are relatively easy to alleviate. Simple lifestyle changes, like covering oneself appropriately against cold weather, wearing protective sunscreen, avoiding hot showers or baths, using moisturizing creams, particularly immediately after bathing, and humidifying the surrounding air, can be sufficient. Products with petroleum jelly are especially useful in eliminating dry skin since they provide an effective barrier to moisture. Products with fragrance are to be avoided since they may further dry out the skin.

If a particular substance, material or medication is found to be causing the skin irritation, avoiding it can make a tremendous difference. For more severe cases of skin dryness, stronger creams or ointments may be prescribed by the physician. There is also some scientific evidence that taking a fish oil supplement may improve the condition of dry skin.

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