Eczema or dermatitis is a dry skin condition that causes flares of red, itchy and sometimes oozing and crusting patches across a sufferer’s body. Whilst severity and side effects may differ from person to person, drier skin leaves those with the condition more prone to a flare up. This means that autumn can be a particularly uncomfortable time for eczema sufferers as the cooler and drier weather can dry out skin. There are also aero-allergens than can exacerbate eczema over the autumn such mould and certain pollens.
To help educate people on later-onset eczema, Professor Du Toit, Consultant Paediatric Allergist at The Portland Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK, shares his expert advice on the causes, symptoms, and treatments.
What is adult eczema?
“Whilst eczema is more common in infants and often improves around the ages of 5 or 6, the condition can also appear in an individual after the age of 18, this is known as late-onset or adult-onset eczema,” explains Professor Du Toit. “This may be difficult to diagnose as symptoms may reflect other conditions such contact dermatitis, in which flare ups are a result of encountering a particular substance that has aggravated the skin e.g. solvents, soaps/detergent, acids and alkalis.”
What causes adult eczema?
“The cause of eczema has been significantly advanced by the discovery of genes that code for a healthy skin barrier. Defective function of these genes can render the skin susceptible to external triggers that can induce eczema,” says Professor Du Toit. “Common triggers include skin infections e.g. staph aureus bacterial infections or aero-allergies e.g. dust mites. Those who have experienced eczema, asthma, food or aero-allergies when younger are prone ore prone to adult eczema.”
How can you identify eczema?
“Redness, dry and scaly skin can all be indicators of eczema. Whilst the condition can appear all over the body, it most commonly forms on the hands, the fingers, the insides of the elbows or backs of the knees. If these areas also feel particularly itchy, it is possible that you are suffering from eczema.
“It is important to try and not scratch the affected area as it can leave scarring, make skin bleed, and cause secondary infections like staph. Staph infections are very painful and occur when bacteria enter the broken skin at the site of the eczema. Symptoms include further redness/itchiness, leakage of clear/yellow-coloured fluid giving a ‘honey crust’ appearance from the wounds,” explains Professor Du Toit.
How can adult eczema be treated?
There are a number of methods for easing symptoms and treating adult eczema:
- Applying moisture to prevent dryness is highly beneficial to eczema-prone skin. This will in turn reduce eczema flare ups and create a protective barrier against environmental allergen exposure.
- Avoiding frequent and long or hot showers as these can dry out skin and induce a flare up.
- The use of anti-inflammatory ointments and creams that are targeted towards treating eczema can soothe, reduce inflammation and redness and swelling of any affected skin. The use of such products should be guided by a clinician experienced in eczema management such as a dermatologist.
- Avoiding irritants like fragrant soap, wool clothing and perfume. The simpler the product the better. Using fragrance free washing powder and conditioner will also help prevent symptoms. Treating your skin with fragrance-free lotion right after a shower is advised.
- If household water is known to be ‘hard’ (this information is often available on council websites), consider adding a water softener to the plumbing system. Bath water emollients may also be beneficial.
- Scratching can cause infection and catalyse the formation of eczema. Though it can be difficult, avoid itching the infected areas and keep finger nails short to prevent skin damage. The use of antihistamines may partially reduce itch, but sedating antihistamines should preferably be avoided.
- Treat skin infections early on to prevent rapid spread of infection and eczema flares. In the absence of previous chickenpox infection, patients may wish to acquire the vaccine to prevent any skin complications that are more common in those with eczema.
Article by Professor Du Toit, Consultant Paediatric Allergist at The Portland Hospital, part of HCA Healthcare UK.
About HCA Healthcare UK
- HCA Healthcare UK is the country’s largest provider of privately funded care, with over 800,000 patients every year. From complex and urgent care, to primary care, outpatient and day-case treatment, HCA UK provide care across our network of facilities in London and Manchester.
- HCA Healthcare UK includes London Bridge Hospital, The Portland Hospital, The Harley Street Clinic, The Lister Hospital, The Princess Grace Hospital, The Wellington Hospital, Roodlane Medical Ltd, and Blossoms Healthcare. HCA UK also work with leading NHS Trusts to provide care at Private Care at The Christie and HCA UK at University College Hospital and Private Care at Guy’s.
- Article credits: British Association of Dermatology, UK Anaphylaxis campaign, Allergy UK, National Eczema Society