Everyone's felt the acute itch that comes with a mosquito bite. The impulse to scratch it is almost compulsive, and it can take a great deal of restraint to fight the desire. Now imagine that instead of a couple of angry mosquito bites, huge patches of skin all over your body became dry, itchy and inflamed. The need to scratch overwhelms you, so you give into the urge.
But soon you find out the scratching doesn't help -- in fact, it makes the situation desperately worse. The afflicted skin becomes even more cracked and scaly, and develops crusty, weeping sores. The sores become infected and the rash intensifies, continuing a vicious cycle from which there is seemingly no escape.
Now imagine all that happening to a 2-year-old.
This is the reality of eczema. It's most common among infants and children, although adults can also suffer from the condition. Eczema can take several forms, the most frequent being atopic dermatitis. Atopic dermatitis is a severe, chronic disease that causes the horribly itchy, inflamed skin that typically acts as described above. Infection follows frequently and contributes to flare-ups, which generally come and go unexpectedly. Various other complications can also ensue.
The exact cause of eczema is unknown -- although there's believed to be a genetic link -- but a number of external factors are believed to be at work during an eczema episode. Potential triggers vary from person to person, but can include:
- Irritants such as industrial chemicals, skin care products, synthetic fabrics and wool, paints, detergents and solvents
- Allergens from foods, pollen, animals and dust
- Climate conditions like hot and humid or cold and dry weather, as well as sudden changes in temperature
- Dry skin
And that's an abbreviated list. Eczema is not contagious, but as if it weren't enough -- people with the disease also commonly suffer from hay fever and asthma. So what hope is there? It's true there's no cure for the condition, but there are a number of possible treatments for those enduring eczema. Let's explore one interesting method on the next page.