Dermatitis. Also commonly referred to as eczema; or if you have it you may call it “ick-zema”, or “itch-zema”. So what is it? The terms eczema and dermatitis are often used interchangeably to describe an inflammatory skin condition with symptoms such as dry, scaly patches: areas that are crusty, flaky, and thick, which can sometimes ooze and are often red and very itchy.
There are many different types of eczema, and it affects people of all ages. Different professionals will tell you different beliefs of why certain people get eczema, depending on their own experience and training. However, the exact cause is not known. It is believed that a combination of underlying problems cause eczema.
Most people do not have eczema all the time. Rather, certain triggers will bring on flare ups, similar to what happens to people with rosacea. Not everyone who has eczema has the same triggers. They differ, depending on many factors such as what type of eczema the person has, whether or not they have a history of allergies, what types of ingredients are in their skin care products, stress, etc. The topic of eczema triggers is too vast to discuss in one post, so I will post more information later.
The key to managing eczema
For any person, is to identify the triggers and avoid them as much as possible. This can be very difficult to do for children, and especially babies who have eczema, since they cannot effectively communicate when something is bothering them. The best way to prevent eczema flare ups in children is to keep the skin well moisturized at all times with a non-irritating, hypo-allergenic emollient moisturizer. Avoid known allergens and other common allergens such as dust, mold, pollen, pet dander, etc. Dress them in breathable fabrics, and clothes that do not constrict or cause any friction during movement. Viral or bacterial infections can often be triggers as well, so make sure you identify any possible infection and start treatment as soon as possible.
Some holistic professionals suggest that too much gluten, dairy, or yeast in the diet can bring on eczema, so consider reducing or eliminating these foods.
Besides keeping the skin constantly hydrated and avoiding triggers, it is a good idea to check your personal care product ingredients for possible irritants. Many commonly used preservatives, like formaldehyde and parabens; surfactants like sodium (or ammonia) lauryl/laureth sulfate; fragrances; colors and dyes; lanolin, etc. can be very irritating to the skin, and should be avoided. Topical corticosteroids can be used to treat flare ups, but should not be used more than a few times a day, for a few days. There are prescription drugs available, but many of them cause unpleasant and possibly serious side effects, and are usually not recommended for children.
When living with eczema, or any skin disorder, a lifestyle change is often necessary to eliminate triggers.
I have experienced eczema personally, and with my children. With my older daughter, we quickly found out that dry skin, irritant ingredients, and viruses like the common cold were her triggers. I had a hard time treating her flare ups, because every cream or moisturizer our pediatrician suggested contained lanolin, which she is allergic to. I was one step away from calling the dermatologist, but I decided to do some of my own product research first.
I ended up switching her shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and moisturizer to a hypo-allergenic, non-irritating skincare line. I never had to call the dermatologist. I’m not going to say that she never had another flare up again, but they are far less frequent, and go away very quickly. Her flare ups diminished significantly after age five, which is common in children with eczema.
There is a vast amount of information available online about the management of eczema, which can be very overwhelming. The National Eczema Association is also a great resource. http://www.nationaleczema.org.