Q: What is eczema?

A:Eczema refers to a common allergic skin condition. It is a longstanding irritable red rash, usually appear on face, elbows, wrists and behind the knees; sometimes on the calves or thighs. For more severe cases, it can appear all over the body. The symptoms of eczema include intense itching, dry and flakey skin, swelling and redness. There may be blisters, crusting, scaly areas, fissures and bleeding. After eczema has been treated, there may be temporary hyperpigmentation in the skin area. There is no scarring if treated properly.

When eczema flares up, the intense itch could disrupt sleep. Having eczema can result in self-consciousness, which affects daily activities, school, work and social life. Some patients may even need psychological counseling.

A very common skin condition, eczema affects approximately 10% of the population in Hong Kong. Anyone at any age could develop eczema, although it is more likely to occur in infants and children. It appears in about 10-15% of children. In many cases, eczema is triggered by allergic reactions, particularly in children.

Q:What is the cause of eczema?

A:The exact causes of eczema are unknown. Generally, eczema patients are skin sensitive to certain materials. Eczema can be divided into two categories based on its nature: acute and chronic. Chronic eczema is often caused by constitutional factors with varying symptoms.

Atopic dermatitis (infantile eczema): sufferers often have allergies, hay fever or asthma run in the family. An itchy rash develops on the face, scalp, neck, inner wrists, behind the knees and on the butt. Although the link between atopic dermatitis and genetics is still unclear, the condition does in run the family.

Dyshidrotic dermatitis: Dyshidrotic dermatitis, sprouts in spring and summer due to sweating, is a condition in which small fluid-filled blisters of approximately 1~5mm appear on the edge of fingers, hands and feet. These blisters, sometimes large, can be moderately or intensely itchy. These blisters cause itchy most intensely at first and may take approximately 2~3 weeks to cure. They also cause scaly patches of skin that flake. The scorching sun and humid weather leads to increased sweating, thus triggers dyshidrotic dermatitis in late spring and summer. Dyshidrotic dermatitis can also be emotion or stress related. Blisters of acute dyshidrotic dermatitis are most itchy, which invokes scratching or rubbing the affected areas. Blisters may erupt, leaving the skin more vulnerable to infection. There may be pain and tenderness if there are cracks and infections.

Asteatotic eczema (xerotic eczema): Eczema sufferers often notice flare-ups as the seasons change, particularly during the dry winter months. Decrease in the oils on the skin surface leads to dryness and damages that triggers asteatotic eczema.

Housewife's eczema: Housewife's eczema is hand dermatitis caused by excessive exposure to irritants, common for housewives, hairstylists and plasterers. The condition develops in the fingers and palms, but normally does not go past the wrists. The affected skin initially develops papules, thickens and becomes scaly. In severe cases, the skin becomes dry, then cracks and weeps. Housewife's eczema is often believed to be a result of skin allergies.

Allergen: When the immune system reacts to an allergen, whether environment or substances in food, it shows hypersensitive responses. Responses to allergens vary widely among individuals. Dust mites, solvents, chemicals, soaps, perfumes, pollen, animal fur, wool products, plastic products, rubber products, synthetic leather and synthetic building components are common allergens.

Dietary factors: Man-made food that contains multiple chemicals, milk, egg, peanut and seafood are often considered allergens that trigger eczema. Personal factors: Emotional stress, lack of rest, decline in immunity and drug abuse could aggravate the symptoms of eczema. Chronic gastrointestinal diseases, chronic alcoholism, intestinal parasitic diseases, impaired metabolic function and endocrine disorders are all possible causes of eczema.

Q:Is eczema contagious?

A:Eczema is not contagious because it is not caused by bacteria or virus. Immunity functions actively affect the skin.

Q:How to manage eczema?

A:In terms of personal care, maintain proper skin hygiene. Trim nails often and avoid scratching. Keep showers short and moderately warm. Use mild shower gels instead of chemically-made soaps. Keep skin moisturized.

In terms of diet, eczema sufferers should avoid alcohol, beef, nuts, seafood, deep-fried and spicy food, milk, eggs, artificially-colored and preserved food to reduce irritations. If allergens are known, avoid contact with the causative substances or food.

In terms of clothing, hot and humid weather often triggers eczema. Sufferers should avoid woolen underwear and nylon sportswear. Stay in air-conditioned environment to keep skin cool and comfortable.

Maintain a hygienic environment at home. Avoid carpet furnishings, animal fur, pollen plants and soft toys. Many household chemicals and antiseptics are harsh on the skin and can aggravate eczema. Eczema sufferers should purchase cleaners made for sensitive skin. Organic products are the best options.

Ensure sufficient sleep and rest. Stay positive. Lack of sleep and emotional stress can affect immunity.

Q: What are the treatments for eczema?

A:Avoid contact with allergens and boost immunity.

Apply organic eczema cream to keep skin well moisturized and hydrated. Organic eczema cream contains properties effective in soothing and repairing damaged skin. It reduces itch and swelling, facilitates recovery and restores the skin to its healthy state.

Chinese medicine can improve bodily functions but unable to quickly relieve itch and swelling.

Topical steroids are used to treat eczema but prolonged use may induce permanent damages on the skin, such as skin thinning and stretch marks.

Topical antibiotics and antiseptics are used to treat infected skin areas but prolonged use will lead to the potential spread of resistance. Improper use may cause drug allergies. Studies have shown that Hong Kong has high antibiotics resistant strains prevalence rate. Irrational use of antibiotics contributes to the emergence of antibiotics resistance.

Antihistamine medication is used for treating allergy symptoms but the development of resistance is common. It may also cause drowsiness, headache and gastrointestinal discomfort

Q:Can eczema be cured?

A: 60-70% of the children outgrow baby or children eczema if managed properly, others carry it into their adulthood. Eczema is a complicated skin disorder related to allergic reaction to specific allergens. General Chinese and Western medication can only relieve its symptoms. If allergens are known, avoid triggers and irritants. Enhance your immune system to reduce the chance of relapses.

CHARISMS Organic Baby Balm is proven effective in improving and curing eczema.

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