It manifests with a rash, intense itching, oozing crust and scales. We all know the signs of eczema. Eczema, clinical name Atopic dermatitis, afflicts those with sensitive skin. It’s similar to an allergy although unlike allergies it can’t be cured, but with the right treatment it can be effectively managed. Nation spoke to Cosmetic Surgeon and Cardiologist, Dr. Nimal Gamage on eczema triggers and treatment.

The actual cause of eczema is unknown, but correlations have been made between genetic factors, environmental conditions, atopic diseases such as asthma and allergic rhinitis commonly referred to as Catarrh. Children often develop eczema along with asthma, food allergies and allergic rhinitis. Eczema in children is observed often on face, scalp, hands and feet and in adults it’s usually behind the knees, front of elbows, neck, hands and feet.
“Children of parents who have eczema have a high incidence of eventually developing eczema,” said Dr. Gamage. “If left untreated the blisters can get infected,” said Dr. Gamage. “This can lead to cellulitis that can turn ceptic.”

Allergens such as pollen, mold, dust mites and exposure to cold or dry air and animals such as cats can trigger eczema. Adults may be allergic to wool and lanolin, a wax secreted by the sebaceous glands of wool-bearing animals that can trigger eczema.
“Bouts of eczema are common in cold countries during winter,” said Gamage. Dyshidrotic eczema, the most common form of eczema, is caused by mold. “Some people don’t change their bed sheets for weeks. By the time they do get around to changing their sheets they’re infested with dust mites. Basic hygiene can go a long way in managing diseases like eczema,” said Gamage. He explained that occupational irritants such as chemicals handled by hairdressers and mechanics are among other triggers.

According to Gamage, children whose mothers were exposed to pollution or suffered gum problems while pregnant have a higher tendency of developing eczema. Gamage reiterated the importance of maintaining basic hygiene during pregnancy in order to prevent such a disease. He warned that alcohol consumption during pregnancy also puts babies at risk of developing eczema. “Conversely, babies who are breast-fed stand half the likelihood of developing eczema later in life. It has recently been found that good gut flora or good bacteria in the digestive tracts decrease chances of getting eczema.”

All eczema starts with dryness, explained Gamage. “Therefore it is important to apply moisturizer, especially after washing.” The doctor’s orders for eczema patients are to not shower too often. A warm water bath is advised. Mental relaxation is vital for managing eczema, emphasized Gamage. “Stress exacerbates eczema and stress relief methods such as meditation, yoga and painting could be incorporated into the treatment method. Psychological counselling to avoid the stress factor is helpful in managing eczema.”

Dairy foods should be avoided along with other animal based foods such as chicken, meat and eggs. “In fact, parents should prevent from feeding eggs to very young children,” said Gamage. Animal based factory produce that invariably contain a cocktail of chemicals and hormones should also be avoided to manage eczema. “Glutenin contained in wheat is also known to aggravate eczema and therefore should be avoided.”

Gamage advised that eczema patients should avoid strong chemicals, solvents, soaps and detergents and settle for mild baby shampoos and conditioners. Both heat and cold can exacerbate eczema and therefore both these extremes should be avoided. “Don’t scrub the skin too much for too long. But above all avoid mold.”

Supplements such as primrose oil, Omega 3 acids and Vitamins B and A supplements can further help manage eczema. Gamage informed that, as per recent studies, using turmeric in food is a foolproof way of combating eczema. “Turmeric contains curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory substance, one of the strongest antioxidants on earth,” informed Gamage. “In some cases people suffering from eczema experience premature graying of hair.” Gamage informed that the condition can eventually lead to premature aging. “This condition can be stalled with essential vitamins – D 3 and B 12 and cutting down on all types of sugar including sugary fruits.”

Topical cream and emollients can go a long way in managing eczema as most topical cream are harmless even with long-term use. Gamage also reiterates the importance of avoiding trigger factors and psychological counselling.