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What is eczema?

Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis (AD) is a common skin disease that affects many people worldwide. In most cases, the onset occurs before five years of age and persists to some extent throughout life. Studies of US school children indicate that up to 20% of the population suffers from AD. Characterized by a relapsing rash with intense itching, atopic dermatitis causes discomfort, both physical and psychologic.   It is often associated with asthma and seasonal allergies, and these three allergic entities are known as the “atopic triad.”

What causes eczema?

The etiology is multifactorial, and causes include impaired barrier function of the skin, environmental allergies and immune dysfunction.  Heredity plays a major role in the development of eczema, and if one parent an atopic condition, the child has a 25% chance of developing one as well.  Patients develop dry, itchy, red skin.  Most commonly, the legs, arms, ears and cheeks are affected.   The chronic inflammation leads to scratching, which often causes skin breakdown and lichenification or thickening.  Unfortunately, affected skin is prone to bacterial and viral infections, which can worsen the severity of the disease.

What causes eczema flares?

Eczema outbreaks or flares have multiple triggers.   Dry skin and environmental irritants such as dyes, soaps, perfumes, woolen clothing, and industrial chemicals commonly cause inflammation and start the “itch scratch cycle.”  Stress and abrupt changes in temperature also cause worsening of disease.  Contrary to popular belief, most patients with eczema do not have a specific allergen causing their symptoms.

How is eczema treated?

The mainstay of treatment for atopic dermatitis is improvement of barrier function and irritant avoidance to minimize flares.  During flares, prescription strength medication is used to eliminate inflammation and restore the integrity of the skin. We work to eliminate environmental triggers, both irritant and allergic in nature. At Fairfield Dermatology, we educate patients about their condition, eliminate environmental triggers when possible and provide effective skin care products and prescriptions to minimize outbreaks. We work closely with patients and their parents to customize a regimen that works and that is easy to implement.

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