Eczema Patient Information Fact Sheet

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What is eczema?
Eczema or dermatitis is the medical term for a skin flare-up where patches of skin become itchy, red, dry and inflamed. Your doctor may already have told you that you have eczema, which affects people of all ages. Eczema is one of the most common reasons for dry, sensitive skin, and affects up to 20% of the population. Your eczema may flare up when your skin comes into contact with everyday things. This can be triggered by a reaction to substances that irritate your skin, or by a sensitivity to specific substances that develops, over time, into an allergic reaction.

What triggers skin irritation?
There are many different types of eczema/dermatitis and the causes are often difficult to identify. Triggers for skin flare-ups can be either common irritants or allergens, including household soaps and detergents, engine oils, cold winds, food and plants, nickel and chrome, perfume, and rubber. Avoiding contact with a specific substance may help to reduce the symptoms.

What is the itch-scratch cycle?
The first sign of irritation is usually itching and the most natural response is to scratch - the more you scratch, the more you itch. This is known as the itch-scratch cycle and it is how a skin flare-up becomes established.

How do I control my skin flare-up of eczema and dermatitis?
The best way to break the itch-scratch cycle is to treat the irritation at the first sign of symptoms, or as soon as you can after onset. The earlier you start the treatment the more effectively you will be able to relieve the itching and clear the inflammation.

How is eczema treated?
Finding the right treatment is important. These treatments include emollients, steroid creams (also known as corticosteroid creams), antihistamines and antibiotics. Some of these treatments can found over-the-counter, while other, stronger medications will need a prescription. Adults with severe cases of eczema that have failed to respond to other therapies may be prescribed immunomodulators, drugs that suppress the immune system. These drugs block the production of some immune cells and curb the action of others.

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