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CHICAGO—August 19, 2019—Eczema is an itchy, scaly skin condition that can have a profound impact on a patient’s sense of well-being. Symptoms can be both emotionally and physically debilitating and may linger for years.
A chronic skin condition, eczema more often affects children but can occur at any age. Approximately 10-20 percent of all infants will develop it. And while nearly half will outgrow the condition or have significantly fewer symptoms as they age, many continue to experience eczema throughout their adult lives.
The rash can develop on any part of the body, but usually affects the hands, elbows, knees and face, frequently occurring in skin folds. Among darker-skinned people, eczema can also affect pigmentation, making the area turn darker or lighter.
“The emotional impact can be as devastating as the physical symptoms for patients,” says Emily Rubenstein, DO, a board certified dermatologist who serves as director of the Swedish Skin Institute, part of the Swedish Covenant Hospital campus in Chicago. “The condition is often associated with poor sleep, low self-esteem and frustration because treatment is rarely simple, immediate or without side effects.”
Eczema, an umbrella term that groups several related skin conditions, is characterized by red, dry, itchy skin that can become blistered, crusted, scaly and thickened. Patients may face extreme itching at night when they are trying to sleep. The rashes can also be disruptive to daily life, preventing patients from wearing certain clothes or cosmetics. For some, the rash develops prominently on the face, causing it to appear red or blotchy.
Of the approximately 31 million Americans with eczema, 18 million adults and nearly 10 million children have atopic dermatitis, the most common form. With atopic dermatitis the skin fails to hold in moisture, becomes dry, then inflamed, itchy and often infected, according to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology.
While the condition may resemble rashes like poison ivy, it is not contagious, notes Dr. Rubenstein. Most often eczema is triggered by contact with common cleaning agents including soaps, detergents and scented products such as perfumes or shampoos. Other triggers may include sunblock, certain fabrics, foods that frequently activate allergies (peanuts, milk and soy), stress and even weather.
Doctors still do not fully understand what causes eczema, but they believe it is related to a gene variation that impacts the skin’s ability to retain moisture. The condition can run in families and often occurs in people who also have allergies.
There is no cure for atopic dermatitis but treatments and self-care measures can relieve itching and prevent new outbreaks.
For some, chlorinated pools offer a soothing effect similar to another surprising treatment: bleach baths. Made up of approximately one quarter cup of household bleach diluted by a full bathtub of water, regular soaks can help prevent flares, Dr. Rubenstein notes.
Moisturizing creams, or emollients, as well as topical steroids and antihistamines may also provide relief—but long term use of steroids is not recommended. Physicians encourage patients to avoid harsh soaps, moisturize regularly, and be aware of potential triggers.
“Continual research is happening in eczema and new and innovative therapies are on the near horizon,” says Dr. Rubenstein. “New advancements include biologics that can help severe eczema patients manage the rash and itch of the disease.”
The American Osteopathic Association (AOA) represents more than 145,000 osteopathic physicians (DOs) and osteopathic medical students; promotes public health; encourages scientific research; serves as the primary certifying body for DOs; and is the accrediting agency for osteopathic medical schools.
To learn more about DOs and the osteopathic philosophy of medicine, visit www.DoctorsThatDo.org.