Eczema (dermatitis) is a dry skin condition that varies across individuals and comes in many different forms. It is a common condition affecting 8% of adults but more prolific in children, affecting approximately 20% of schoolchildren. Symptoms can range from mild to severe as follows:
- Mild: dry, scaly, red and itchy
- Severe: weeping, crusting and bleeding
In both cases the skin can be itchy and scratching causes the skin to split and bleed leaving it open to infection. The symptoms can have an enormous impact on quality of life and also increase the risk of allergies developing.
There are many types of eczema. Atopic eczema is a genetic condition resulting from the interaction between a number of genes and environmental factors. In most cases there will be a family history of either eczema or one of the other ‘atopic’ conditions i.e asthma or hay fever.
It is well recognised that allergies can play a significant role in the worsening of eczema, especially in children and identification and exclusion of food or environmental allergens can help improve eczema and reduce the need for conventional treatments such as steroid creams. The presence of eczema in children also represents a significant risk factor for severe food allergies and recent international guidelines now recommend screening of children with eczema for food allergies, such as peanut allergy, which affects almost 1 in 50 children.
An experienced allergist will take your detailed clinical history and then conducts a sequence of tests such as skin prick testing, specific IgE blood testing, atopy patch testing* or provocation challenges to identify causative allergens. They can also advise of the management of eczema, including the use of topical creams, systemic treatments as well as more recent non-steroid base anti-inflammatory creams (calcineurin inhibitors). They can also advise on more novel treatments and access to current research studies. Our team can also advise guide difficult decisions around introduction of allergenic foods such as egg and peanut into the infant diet, which, if correctly timed can significantly reduce the risk of food allergy developing.
* In adults, patch testing is used to identify triggers for contact dermatitis, and this testing is performed by dermatologists. If we suspect you have a contact dermatitis caused by chemicals, for example in make up or beauty care products we will refer you on to an expert in performing this testing