Before we get started I just want to let you know that I am not a medical doctor, nurse, and so on. I have based my writings upon my own experiences, opionions, and extensive research regarding the topics in my blog. Therefore, read my disclaimer and use the information within my blog appropriately and at your own risk.
What is eczema?
Eczema is referred to as atopic dermatitis. Atopic refers to a group of diseases with a tendency to develop other allergic conditions, like asthma or hay fever. Dermatitis means inflammation of the skin. Atopic dermatitis is not contagious, but rather is typically inherited and found in families with a history of asthma and allergies.
Eczema is a inflammatory disease which causes the skin to become inflamed or irritated, and is commonly described as the “rash that itches”. While some reactions can be triggered from touching an irritant, (this is known as contact dermatitis which is slightly different from atopic dermatitis), most reactions are triggered from within.
Read that again. Say it with me. Most reactions are triggered from within.
Your Skin And Eczema
When you have eczema, the skin barrier does not function normally. It becomes too thin, resulting in wet looking, “weepy skin”. Skin becomes abnormally dry and sensitive as your natural moisturizing oils are carried away. Defects in the skin barrier can allow allergens such as pollen, mold, dust mites and bacteria to enter the body. This contributes to flare-ups and immune responses, such as allergic reactions.
Symptoms of Eczema
Beginning characteristics of eczema include itchy skin, redness (inflammation), and often tiny fluid filled blisters (vesicles) that can weep and ooze. If untreated crusted, thickened plaques of skin begin to form over the affected area. To an eczema sufferer’s despair, that thickened skin forms only to break open itch, ooze and become inflamed once again. So begins the endless cycle of itch, ooze, crust. While eczema can show up anywhere, it most commonly appears on the face, back of the knees, wrists, hands, or feet.
Above: I apologize for not having graphic pictures of my severe eczema, I tried to avoid it. As of now, my hands are on the mend and nearly back to normal. Note the cracks below my index finger -cracks like this used to extend to the middle of my palm. For a graphic mental picture the palm of my hand started as inflamed red itchy skin, thickened skin began to form, painful cracks resulted from moving my hands. Itch, ooze, crust.
Note also: The rough looking skin along my fingers, most predominantly along my pinky and middle finger. This was also where inflamed, itchy skin lived. Itch, ooze, crust. Rinse and Repeat.
Although eczema can occur at any age, it is most commonly found in babies, with more than half of all eczema sufferers showing symptoms before their first birthday. Eczema is seen as a disease that children will “grow out of” with roughly 74% of affected children becoming eczema free by sixteen years old. However, there is no guarantee that children will outgrow their eczema, and unfortunately if it continues then it is said the symptoms will continue on and off throughout life. Approximately 3% percent of adults will have moderate to severe eczema in their lifetime.
Causes of Eczema
The exact cause of eczema is unknown, but it is suggested to be linked to an overactive response by the body’s immune system to an irritant. Irritants can vary from each individual, from food allergies to harsh chemicals (whether it be in cleaning products or soaps and shampoos). The reaction to harsh chemicals is likely contact dermatitis, with the reaction (more often than not) stopping once contact with the chemical is avoided. However harsh chemicals are no help for atopic dermatitis sufferers, and can further aggravate existing eczema by soaking into cuts and weakened layers of the skin so thus should be avoided as well.
Leaky gut syndrome may also be a factor, which is a condition where the digestive tract is damaged. This creates holes in the gut lining allowing undigested food particles, bad bacteria, or other toxins to seep into your bloodstream causing an immune reaction.
In summary, your immune system reacts as if its under attack and attempts to defend itself by releasing anti-bodies and inflammation. While there are many, the most common triggers for this include:
- Wheat (and other gluten containing grains)
A Note About Stress
Stress is commonly considered a factor or trigger when it comes to eczema. However, it is unlikely the stress itself causing the reaction, but rather the result of your already overactive immune system being weakened with high levels of stress. Although it is impossible to remove stress completely from your life, measures should be taken to lower stress levels in order to help your immune system remain healthy and strong.
Is Eczema Curable?
aIn the medical world today, the most common ‘cure’ for eczema include topical creams ranging from over the counter products containing hydrocortisone to prescription creams and ointments containing corticosteroids. Hydrocortisone is a mild steroid. Corticosteroids are a class of steroid hormones ranging from 2% all the way to 600% more potent than hydrocortisone, depending on the type of cream prescribed. The stronger the potency, the better effect it has on inflammation and the greater risk of side effects with continued use.
The bottom line when it comes to the topical creams is that they never treat the root cause – only the symptoms. Each steroid ‘treats’ your eczema by preventing the production of chemicals that cause inflammation, as well as suppressing the immune system by affecting how the white blood cells work. While your skin may look better for the time being, steroids are not to be used long term. Thus when removed from steroids, the affected skin tends to “flare up” and appear worse than ever as the body’s natural response is no longer suppressed.
As the vicious cycle goes, eczema suffers can be stuck with steroid usage for years. Always moving to stronger and stronger steroids when the body naturally flares up once the duration of the prescribed steroid inevitably ends.
It is important to remember that eczema is an inflammatory disease, with most reactions coming from within. Your immune system is attacking a (usually harmless) substance which can indicate a food intolerance or allergy. The most effective way to cure your eczema is start an elimination diet. This is a short term diet that eliminates certain foods which may be causing allergic reactions or digestive issues and then gradually introducing the foods one at a time to discover what your body does -and doesn’t tolerate.
There are millions of elimination diets all over the web, however the one I stand by and have been following is a book called The Eczema Diet by Karen Fisher. She is a wealth of information, and I’m sure you will find her knowledge the greatest asset for getting rid of eczema once and for all.
No matter which route you choose, may you find health and happiness at the end of the road.
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