Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is a chronic, non-contagious, inflammatory skin condition characterized by severe itching, redness, oozing, and scaly rashes. Allergy plays a role in selected patients with eczema.
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Eczema comes and goes over time. It results in very dry and sensitive skin, and can be made worse by exposure to many different things, including allergens such as pet dander or dust mites. Other common triggers include soaps, detergents and lotions with heavy fragrances. Exposure to perfumes and cleaning products can also irritate eczema. For some people, weather changes (especially dry winter air) make eczema worse.
Eczema is particularly common in infants, and an estimated 10 to 20 percent of children have eczema. It is not contagious and is often hereditary. About 60 percent of those with eczema will experience symptoms by age 1, and another 30 percent will experience symptoms by age 5. Children born into families that have a history of allergic diseases such as asthma or hay fever are at an increased risk for developing eczema.
Eczema is considered to be part of the “atopic march.” The atopic march involves the diagnosis of eczema, food allergy, allergic rhinitis, and asthma, typically in that sequential order. Studies show up to 80 percent of children with AD develop asthma and/or allergic rhinitis later in childhood.
Although most children outgrow eczema, for adults who continue to suffer, it is a serious condition. Adult eczema is a chronic condition that involves inflamed, red, itchy patches of skin that can erupt in oozing flare-ups. Different areas of the body can be affected for adults, including face, hands and even eyelids. The itching for adults can feel unbearable as a flare-up can affect skin all over the body. There are treatments and medications which can help control some of the itchiness and pain caused by eczema. It is unusual to develop eczema after age 60. If it occurs, then it usually has to do with a more serious underlying medical condition and you should see your doctor.