Head of Clinical Services, Allergy UK
Atopic eczema (or atopic dermatitis) is the most common form of eczema, causing skin inflammation and intense irritation.
Eczema is most common in babies and children but can also persist into adulthood, affecting around 1.5 million people in the UK. It can have a significant impact on quality of life.
Eczema often starts as dry, scaly patches and most people with eczema tend to have dry skin generally, indicating that the barrier function of the skin is not working properly.
Triggers of atopic eczema
Once the skin barrier is broken, irritants such as soaps and detergents can further damage the skin barrier, exacerbating the eczema. Allergens (such as food and airborne allergens) can penetrate the upper layers of the skin and potentially lead to an allergic reaction when the individual is exposed to them.
Individual triggers of eczema vary, but can include:
- Changes in temperature
- Chemicals and soaps
- Food allergy/intolerance
- Certain fabrics
- Viral and bacterial infections
- Contact allergens in the environment (such as house dust mites and pet dander)
Treating atopic eczema
Currently, there is no cure for eczema so, following a management plan, using emollients to maintain the barrier function of the skin and avoiding irritants are essential. It is important to be aware of the signs of bacterial infections (weeping and crusting), as eczema makes the skin more prone to infection.
Impact on quality of life
Eczema is often seen as ‘just a skin condition’ but can affect every aspect of life. The physical pain and discomfort caused by the condition can be difficult to deal with, causing distress, anxiety and embarrassment.
Some of these impacts were outlined in Allergy UK’s 2017 adult eczema survey:
- 88% of patients said that the management of their eczema impacts on their daily lives
- Over 70% feel depressed as a result of their condition
- 73% state that their social life is impacted
- 70% report that their sleeping habits are affected
If you are concerned that you or your child may have eczema, seek advice from a healthcare professional. An accurate and timely diagnosis is important for the effective management of this condition.