If you are plagued with inflamed patches on your skin that are uncontrollably itchy, you are not alone.
It is estimated that nearly 6 percent of all Americans are troubled by the red patches and tremendous itchiness of the chronic skin disorder known as eczema, according to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD).
Eczema is a life-altering disease that must be taken seriously," said Dr. Guy Webster, dermatologist, Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, Pa. "While its causes remain unclear, we know that patients have defects in one or more of their genes that make their skin's immune system overactive. Environmental irritants, allergens and stress provoke skin flares."
Eczema is characterized by inflamed, dry, scaling, itchy skin.
In infants and small children, it typically involves the face and scalp, but may be more extensive covering all areas but the diaper area.
Adults and teenagers most commonly experience inflammation, dryness and thickening on the hands, neck and chest, inner elbows, back of the knees and ankles.
The itching is so intense that many patients scratch or rub themselves until they bleed. This leads to cracked and scaling skin that increases the risk of secondary infection, said AAD.
Since 1970, the incidence of atopic dermatitis has nearly tripled.
Studies point to environmental factors as contributing to the dramatic boost in the number of people with eczema, including irritants and allergens that trigger the immune system.
"The key to helping patients is to prevent or defend against inflammation," said Webster. "Treatment plans are based on the patient's age, severity of symptoms and overall health."
Generally, dermatologists will give patients information on avoiding common irritants such as perfumed creams and lotion, as well as rough, scratchy or tight clothing and wool.
They will also consult on proper bathing and moisturizing techniques and how best to handle uncontrollable factors such as extreme temperature change.
Prescription treatments are also available. Current treatment options include topical steroid creams, antihistamines, oral antibiotics and ultraviolet light therapy.