Eczema in Ireland
In this Health Hub article, we explore the symptoms and causes of eczema and the medications used to treat it.
Eczema or dermatitis are words used to describe a number of conditions where the barrier function of the skin is very poor. This causes the skin to become dry, itchy, inflamed or irritated. As a result, the skin is more prone to infection.
Eczema can affect any part of the body. It is a non-contagious, long-term inflammatory skin conditions. Seborrheic dermatitis is a form of eczema that is found on areas of the body that has sebaceous glands, also known as oil-producing glands e.g. back, scalp and the face.
Facts & Figures
- Approximately 1 in 5 children and 1 in 12 adults in Ireland suffer with Eczema.
- In 8 out of 10 cases, eczema occurs before a child reaches five years of age.
Eczema clears up or significantly improves in many children as they get older. In approximately 53% of cases, it clears up by the time a child is 11 years old, and in 65% of cases it clears up by 16.
Symptoms of Eczema
The symptoms of eczema are always present, however, they may become more severe during a flare-up. Symptoms include red, dry and itchy skin that may also become broken, thickened and cracked. Itch is the main symptom of eczema. Scratching the skin provides temporary relief, which results in more scratching (itch-scratch cycle). This ultimately makes the condition worse and leaves the skin more vulnerable to infection.
What Causes Eczema?
The exact cause of eczema is unknown. However, key factors include genetics as well as an altered inflammatory and allergy response. Eczema can run in families and often occurs alongside other conditions such as asthma and hay fever.
Other triggers for eczema include:
- Irritants and Allergens
Irritants such as some soaps, detergents, fragrances, clothing and allergens including animal dander, dust mites and pollen can cause the symptoms of eczema to become worse resulting in a flare-up. It is important to try and identify these irritants/ allergens and to avoid them where possible.
Eczema can become aggravated by stress. Finding a way to relieve stress can help alleviate the symptoms and potentially prevent flare-ups.
After vigorous exercise, sweating may make your eczema symptoms worse. Try to keep cool when you are exercising by drinking plenty of fluids and taking regular breaks.
It is important to make an appointment with a healthcare professional to assess if you have eczema or another skin condition. Some other skin conditions may have similar symptoms to eczema and it is important that they are ruled out first.
Medications to Treat Eczema
At present, there is no cure for eczema thus treatments available aim to manage and maintain the condition. Treatments are generally in the form of creams, ointments, and shampoos. There are however some tablets such as antihistamines, oral steroids, and antibiotics that may also be used during periods of a flare-up. In some more severe cases, phytotherapy might be used which is carried out in a hospital setting.
Side Effects of These Medications
- Some antihistamines can cause drowsiness
- Steroid tablets can impact on some people’s ability to sleep
- Steroid creams can thin the skin
Advice From The Pharmacist
- Identify triggers and avoid where possible
- Moisturise as often as you can – maintenance is key, don’t stop moisturising when your skin has cleared.
- A child requires a minimum of 250g of emollient per week, while an adult may need approximately 500g per week.
- Remember to change your tub of emollient at least every six weeks, as it can become contaminated, or use a pump dispenser.
- Avoid soap, bubble bath, and shower gel – opt instead for soap free products.
- Steroid creams should be used sparingly and never as part of a long-term regime unless instructed by your doctor.
- During a flare, up wearing cotton gloves to bed and keeping your nails short can stop you from causing damage to the skin from scratching during the night.
- Antihistamines can cause drowsiness, if affected, it may be best to take them at nighttime.
- Oral steroids impact on people’s ability to sleep so they are best taken in the morning with breakfast.