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Eczema Causes and Symptoms

Atopic dermatitis, also called eczema, is a hereditary and chronic skin disorder that mostly affects infants or very young children. Most children who suffer eczema symptoms — more than half — are often over the condition by the time they reach puberty. Some children however may experience eczema until they reach adulthood.

Eczema actually refers to a number of different skin conditions that present with similar symptoms, primarily with red and irritated skin that is itchy and often flaky. In some cases the condition can result in small, fluid-filled bumps with the potential to ooze.

Eczema is known as atopic dermatitis because the word atopic refers to conditions which occur when a patient is overly sensitive to allergens in their environments. This can include pollens, molds, dust, pet dander and foods.

Eczema Symptoms

The distribution of eczema symptoms (how eczema presents itself on the body) may change with age. In infants and young children, eczema is usually located on the face, outside of the elbows and on the knees. In older children and adults, eczema tends to be on the hands and feet, the arms, and on the back of the knees. While symptoms can vary with each patient, the following are the most common eczema symptoms.

  • Dry, scaly skin
  • Small bumps that open and weep when scratched
  • Redness and swelling of the skin
  • A thickening of the skin (with chronic eczema)

Patients, especially children, often try to relieve the itching of eczema by rubbing the affected areas or by scratching with the fingernails (or anything within reach.) Unfortunately scratching and rubbing can not only tear the skin (potentially leading to infection of the eczema site) but it can also produce thickening and browning of the skin.

Because eczema can go into remission randomly, and eczema symptoms can vary, it can often resemble other skin conditions. If you experience changes in your skin including chronic itching and redness you should always consult with your physician for diagnosis and appropriate treatment.

Eczema Causes

Research has led scientists to believe that eczema and eczema symptoms are inherited, so parents with eczema are more likely to have children who will suffer eczema symptoms. While it is believed to be genetic, specific triggers can potentially make the condition worse. It's important to note that harsh flare-ups of eczema can be better controlled by avoiding the most obvious eczema causes such as:

  • Excessive heat and sweating
  • Stress
  • Certain foods (dairy, acidic foods, etc. — the sensitivity depends on the individual)
  • Skin care products (alcohol based products)
  • Wool or coarse textiles
  • Harsh detergents or soaps
  • Dry skin
  • Pet dander
  • Dust
  • Mold
  • Pollen
  • Dry air environments (seasonal dry air)

Of children who have eczema, most will show eczema symptoms in the first year of life and 90 percent will show signs of eczema within the first five years. Consulting with a dermatologist can often help determine the cause of the flare up or the primary trigger for eczema symptoms.