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Eczema (cont.)

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What are the causes of eczema?

Doctors do not know the exact cause of eczema, but a defect of the skin that impairs its function as a barrier, possibly combined with an abnormal function of the immune system, are believed to be important factors. Studies have shown that in people with atopic dermatitis there are gene defects that lead to abnormalities in certain proteins (such as filaggrin) that are important in maintaining the barrier function of normal skin.

Some forms of eczema can be triggered by substances that come in contact with the skin, such as soaps, cosmetics, clothing, detergents, or jewelry. Environmental allergens (substances that cause allergic reactions) may also cause outbreaks of eczema. Changes in temperature or humidity, or even psychological stress, can lead to outbreaks of eczema in some people.

What are risk factors for eczema?

 No clear risk factors have been identified, although those with a family history of allergic disease are likely to be at greater risk.

What are eczema symptoms and signs in babies, children, and adults?

Eczema most commonly causes scaly, reddened skin that itches or burns, although the appearance of eczema varies from person to person and varies according to the specific type of eczema. Intense itching (pruritus) is generally the first symptom in most people with eczema. Sometimes, eczema may lead to blisters and oozing lesions, especially if skin becomes infected, but eczema can also result in dry skin (xerosis is the medical term for dry skin). Repeated scratching may lead to thickened skin (lichenification).

While any region of the body may be affected by eczema, in children and adults, eczema typically occurs on the face, neck, and the insides of the elbows, knees, and ankles. In infants, eczema typically occurs on the forehead, cheeks, forearms, legs, scalp, and neck.

Eczema can sometimes occur as a brief reaction that only leads to symptoms for a few hours or days, but in other cases, the symptoms persist over a longer time and are referred to as chronic dermatitis.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/7/2014


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