Cardiospermum Halicacabum Information Site - Eczema, Psoriasis and Skin Conditions

About eczema

Eczema is a form of dermatitis, or inflammation of the upper layers of the skin. The term eczema is broadly applied to a range of persistent or recurring skin rashes characterized by redness, skin edema, itching and dryness, with possible crusting, flaking, blistering, cracking, oozing or bleeding. Areas of temporary skin discoloration sometimes characterize healed lesions, though scarring is rare.

More common eczemas

Atopic eczema (aka infantile e., flexural e., atopic dermatitis) is thought to be hereditary, and often runs in families whose members also have hay fever and asthma. Itchy rash is particularly noticeable on face and scalp, neck, inside of elbows, behind knees, and buttocks. Experts are urging doctors to be more vigilant in weeding out cases that are in actuality irritant contact dermatitis. It is very common in developed countries, and rising.

Contact dermatitis is of two types: allergic (resulting from a delayed reaction to some allergen, such as poison ivy or nickel), and irritant (resulting from direct reaction to, say, a solvent). Some substances act both as allergen and irritant (e.g. wet cement). And some substances cause a problem after sunlight exposure, bringing on phototoxic dermatitis. About three quarters of cases of contact eczema are of the irritant type, which is the most common occupational skin disease. Contact eczema is curable provided the offending substance can be avoided, and its traces removed from one’s environment.

Xerotic eczema (aka asteatotic e., e. craquele or craquelatum, winter itch, pruritus hiemalis) is dry skin that becomes so serious it turns into eczema. It worsens in dry winter weather, and limbs and trunk are most often affected. The itchy, tender skin resembles dry cracked river bed. This disorder is very common among the older population. Ichthyosis is a related disorder.

Seborrheic dermatitis (aka cradle cap in infants, dandruff) causes dry or greasy scaling of the scalp and eyebrows. Scaly pimples and red patches sometimes appear in various adjacent places. In newborns it causes a thick, yellow crusty scalp rash called cradle cap which seems related to lack of biotin, and is often curable.

Less common eczemas

Dyshidrosis (aka dyshidrotic e., pompholyx, vesicular palmoplantar dermatitis, housewife’s eczema) only occurs on palms, soles, and sides of fingers and toes. Tiny opaque bumps called vesicles, thickening, and cracks are accompanied by itching which gets worse at night. A common type of hand eczema, it worsens in warm weather.

Discoid eczema (aka nummular e., exudative e., microbial e.) is characterized by round spots of oozing or dry rash, with clear boundaries, often on lower legs. It is usually worse in winter. Cause is unknown, and the condition tends to come and go. (L30.0)
Venous eczema (aka gravitational e., stasis dermatitis, varicose e.) occurs in people with impaired circulation, varicose veins and edema, and is particularly common in the ankle area of people over 50. There is redness, scaling, darkening of the skin and itching. The disorder predisposes to leg ulcers.

Dermatitis herpetiformis (aka Duhring’s Disease) causes intense itchy and typically symmetrical rash on arms, thighs, knees, and back. It is directly related to celiac disease, and can often be put into remission with appropriate diet.

Neurodermatitis (aka lichen simplex chronicus, localized scratch dermatitis) is an itchy area of thickened, pigmented eczema patch that results from habitual rubbing and scratching. Usually there is only one spot. Often curable through behavior modification and anti-inflammatory medication. Prurigo nodularis is a related disorder showing multiple lumps.

Autoeczematization (aka id reaction, autosensitization) is an eczematous reaction to an infection with parasites, fungi, bacteria or viruses. It is completely curable with the clearance of the original infection that caused it. The appearance varies depending on the cause. It always occurs some distance away from the original infection.

There are also eczemas overlaid by viral infections (e. herpeticum, e. vaccinatum), and eczemas resultant from underlying disease (e.g. lymphoma). Eczemas originating from ingestion of medications, foods, and chemicals, have not yet been clearly systematized. Other rare eczematous disorders exist in addition to those listed here.

Diagnosis
Eczema diagnosis is generally based on the appearance of inflamed, itchy skin in eczema sensitive areas such as face, chest and other skin crease areas. Given the many possible reasons for eczema flare ups, however, a doctor is likely to ascertain a number of other things before making a judgment:

  • An insight to family history
  • Dietary habits
  • Lifestyle habits
  • Allergic tendencies
  • Any prescribed drug intake
  • Any chemical or material exposure at home or workplace

To determine whether an eczema flare is the result of an allergen, a doctor may test the blood for the levels of antibodies and the numbers of certain types of cells. In eczema, the blood may show a raised IgE or an eosinophilia.

The blood can also be sent for a specific test called Radioallergosorbent Test (RAST) or a Paper Radioimmunosorbent Test (PRIST). In the test, blood is mixed separately with many different allergens and the antibody levels measured. High levels of antibodies in the blood signify an allergy to that substance.

Another test for eczema is skin patch testing. The suspected irritant is applied to the skin and held in place with an adhesive patch. Another patch with nothing is also applied as a control. After 24 to 48 hours, the patch is removed. If the skin under the suspect patch is red and swollen, the result is positive and the person is probably allergic to that substance.

Occasionally, the diagnosis may also involve a skin lesion biopsy: removal of a small piece of skin for microscopic examination in a laboratory. Blood tests and biopsies are not always necessary for eczema diagnosis. However, doctors will at times require them if the symptoms are unusual, severe or in order to identify particular triggers.


Treatment

Moisturising
Dermatitis severely dries out the skin, and keeping the affected area moistened can promote healing and retain natural moisture. This is the most important self-care treatment that one can use in atopic eczema.

The use of anything that may dry out the skin should be discontinued and this includes both normal soaps and bubble baths that remove the natural oils from the skin.

The moistening agents are called 'emollients'. The rule to use is: match the thicker ointments to the driest, flakiest skin.

Emollient bath oils should be added to bath water and then suitable agents applied after patting the skin dry. Generally twice daily applications of emollients work best and whilst creams are easy to apply, they are quickly absorbed into the skin and so need frequent re-application. Ointments, with their lesser water content, stay on the skin for longer and so need fewer applications but they must be applied sparingly if to avoid a sticky mess.

Some report improvement of symptoms after treatment of the skin with porridge oats, either directly or with an extract.

Eczema and detergents

The first and primary recommendation is that people suffering from eczema shouldn't use detergents of any kind unless absolutely necessary. The current medical school of thought is that people wash too much and that eczema sufferers should use cleansers only when water is not sufficient to remove dirt from skin.

Another point of view is that detergents are so ubiquitous in modern environments and so persistent in tissues and surfaces, safe soaps are necessary to remove them in order to eliminate the eczema in a percentage of cases. Although most recommendations use the terms "detergents" and "soaps" interchangeably, and tell eczema sufferers to avoid both, detergents and soaps are not the same and are not equally problematic to eczema sufferers. Detergents increase the permeability of skin membranes in a way that soaps and water alone do not. Sodium lauryl sulfate, the most common household detergent, has been shown to amplify the allergenicity of other substances ("increase antigen penetration"). (For example, Corazza M, Virgili A, Allergic contact dermatitis from ophthalmic products: can pre-treatment with sodium lauryl sulfate increase patch test sensitivity? Contact Dermatitis. 2005 May;52(5):239-41.)

The use of detergents in recent decades has increased dramatically, while the use of soaps began to decline when detergents were invented, and leveled off to a constant around the '60s. Complicating this picture is the recent development of mild plant-based detergents for the natural products sector.

Unfortunately there is no one agreed upon best kind of cleanser for eczema sufferers. Different clinical tests, sponsored by different personal product companies, unsurprisingly tout various brands as the most skin friendly based on specific properties of various products and different underlying assumptions as to what really determines skin friendliness. The terms "hypoallergenic" and "doctor tested" are not regulated (according to Consumer Reports), and no research has been done showing that products labeled "hypoallergenic" are in fact less problematic than any others.

Dermatological recommendations in choosing a soap generally include:

  • Avoid harsh detergents or drying soaps.
  • Choose a soap that has an oil or fat base; a "superfatted" soap is best.
  • Use an unscented soap.
  • Patch test your soap choice, by using it only on a chosen area until you are sure of its results.
  • Use a non-soap based cleanser.
  • How to use soap when one must
  • Bathe in warm water — not hot.
  • Use soap sparingly.
  • Avoid using washcloths, sponges, or loofahs.
  • Use soap only on areas where it is necessary.
  • Soap up only at the very end of your bath.
  • Use a fragrance free barrier type moisturizer such as vaseline or aquaphor before drying off.
  • Never use any kind of lotion, soap, or fragrance unless your doctor tells you to or it's allergen free
  • Never rub your skin dry, elsewise your skin's oil/moisture will be on the towel and not your body.

Psychological effects

Eczema often comes and goes in cycles, meaning that at some times of the year sufferers are able to feel normal, while at other times they will distance themselves from social contact. Sufferers with visible marks generally feel fine (physically) and can act normal, but when it is mentioned they become withdrawn and self-conscious. Since it is a condition made worse by scratching, a sufferer with highly visible sores aggravated by scratching often feel as if everyone is looking at the marks and that it is self induced.

Although scratching does give a sense of release, it is usually a temporary solution and can lead to problems with constant scratching. Sufferers often shy away from scratching in public, but the solution is to scratch in privacy. In cases of children with eczema, visible scars or scratch marks can lead to suspicion of home abuse or self-mutilation, which causes possible peer rejection and may add to a general level of stress.