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Eczema and Dermatitis
The terms eczema and dermatitis mean much the same. It basically refers to inflammation of the skin.
Eczema is one of the commonest causes of dry, sensitive skin in Singapore regardless of age group. It causes red, itchy skin which may also blister. It affects up to 10% of people at some time in their life. Without proper treatment, it can cause a lot of psychological and social distress.
There are two main types of eczema/dermatitis:
1) Atopic eczema
This usually starts in early childhood. About 2 in 3 people with atopic eczema grow out of it by their mid-teens. If you have atopic eczema, you are born with a tendency for your skin to become inflamed and various parts of the skin may flare up with inflammation from time to time. People with this skin condition have an increased chance of developing other atopic conditions such as asthma and hay fever.
2. Contact dermatitis
This is caused by substance outside of the body. It happens when a part of your body comes in contact with a substance that your body dislikes. This causes patches of inflammation on the skin. It can be further categorised into irritant and allergic contact dermatitis.
What triggers an eczema/dermatitis?
Most people with atopic eczema may flare up from time to time with no apparent reason. Sometimes it may be triggered or made worse by some irritants to the skin, or other factors like stress, anxiety and travel abroad.
Common skin irritants include soap, detergents, perfumes, toiletries, clothing, temperature (too hot or too cold), and other skin infections. Some people may have flare ups after eating certain food such as eggs, cow’s milk and nuts. Pets and house dust mites may also trigger an eczema.
Do I need any tests?
Tests are not needed most of the time. It is often quite clear which substance has triggered an eczema/dermatitis. When it is not clear and you really want to find out, a patch test may be performed.
What treatments are available?
Treatments include topical (medicine you apply on the skin directly) and oral medications.
Eczema makes your skin dry and irritable. Dry skin tends to flare up more often. This creates a vicious circle.
Emollients or moisturisers are lotions, creams or ointments that can prevent the skin from becoming dry. They keep the skin moist and supple. This helps to prevent itch and to prevent or reduce the number of flare-ups. The regular use of emollients is the most important part of the day-to-day treatment for eczema. Various types of emollients for eczema are available by prescription.
2) Topical steroids
Topical steroids reduce the inflammation in the skin, and they come in different types and strengths. It is important to get your skin assessed by a doctor so the appropriate type of topical steroid can be prescribed to you.
Topical steroid for your face is different from the one for your body!
They are usually given together with a moisturiser to give the best effect. Prolonged use of topical steroids may cause some side effects like skin thinning. Therefore, I cannot stress enough the importance of getting a proper assessment by a doctor!
3) Oral medication
Oral medications for eczema/dermatitis are antihistamines, oral antibiotics and oral steroids.
Oral antihistamines can help reduce the itchiness and redness of the inflamed skin.
Oral antibiotics are given if the affected area is infected. They are usually given for a week or so.
Oral steroids are given if the eczema is severe and does not respond well to topical steroids.