Eczema-symptoms, causes and coping:my husband's experience
Dry, scaly skin, awful red blemishes, reddish welts and a distinctive odor. Extreme discomfort, with persistent scratching. These symptoms characterize eczema, a discomfiting and baffling skin condition.
Eczema, medically defined as Atopic Dermatitis, is a condition which defines an inflammation or irritation of the skin. Eczema, usually inherited, brings with it a tendency to develop other allergic conditions and affects about 20% of infants. While some manage to outgrow their symptoms after childhood, many experience eczema throughout their lives.
My husband's tussle with eczema
My husband, Kok Kiang, has eczema, a dubious inheritance of the medical kind from the male side of his family. His father, uncles and brother all have the condition. His skin is noticeably dry and scaly around his wrists, mirroring that of a snake's. His back often itches,so he uses a back scratcher and he often has red patches that highlight the itchy areas of his body.
When he was younger, the eczema was so bad that he had obvious welts on his hands and cheeks. The itching was unstoppable, and he would often have bloody chasms all over his body, including his arms and feet.
On hot days, he would really need a cold shower as his skin smelt particularly bad, a little like sweaty, smelly feet. My mother was initially a bit taken aback by the slight odor he was emitting.
Thankfully, he outgrew the condition somewhat as he grew older and has very little if any problem with it now. He does not scratch as much, but still has dry, scaly skin.
Eczema -symptoms and diagnosis
Eczema can be diagnosed by a dermatologist, who will conduct other tests to determine the presence of food allergies and allergic reactions to inhalants and other chemical substances that often accompany the condition. This can be helpful in discerning he likely triggers for eczema.
The condition is common in toddlers and children, who outgrow the sometimes unbearable symptoms later in life.
To have eczema means having to bear with inflamed, itchy skin. The itch usually starts on the face, back of the knees, hands or feet, but can affect other areas as well. My husband sometimes experiences an itchy back and the itch takes time to subside. There is extreme redness in the areas where he scratches. The healed ones, of course, leave multiple scars.
Areas of the body affected by eczema can appear dry or scaly. In people who are fair skinned, an eczema rash can be reddish and later turn brown. If a sufferer has darker skin, eczema can affect pigmentation and cause skin to become lighter or darker. For young infants, the itch can even produce an oozing or a sweaty, smelly odor which appears rather repugnant to some. This usually appears on the face or scalp.
Causes of eczema
The exact cause of eczema is not known, but it is linked to reactions to substances and chemicals. Possible explanations for what induces eczema have been derived.
Exposure to irritants or inhalants
Ezcema is linked to the immune system’s overt reaction to any irritant or inhalant. These can include soaps, perfumes or paints. The undue response of excessive itchiness results.
A hereditary condition
Eczema can be hereditary, with patients coming from families where there is a history of the condition or other related illness such as asthma and other allergies.
The male side of my husband's family all have eczema. Their skin is snake-like and dry, with patches and flakes sometimes falling off in the shower. Unsurprisingly,he also has asthma, and carries a Ventolin pump with him constantly. I do find skin flakes on his pillow at times, which can be a little worrying.
Interaction with coarse materials and other reaction-producing substances
Contact with reaction-producing substances often induces eczema. Brushing of the skin with coarse materials or substances creates instances of the condition because these materials are itch-causing when they react with the skin.
Kok Kiang has to be careful when selecting the shirts he wears, because some of these cause adverse reactions when they interact with his skin. There was one I chose for him when I did not know that the material would cause him to scratch the entire day at work. He wore it, knowing it would happen, but did not tell me. Needless to say,I was touched by the gesture.
Changes in temperature
Fluctuations in temperature increase the instances of eczema. It is not uncommon to find Kok Kiang scratching when the heat creeps in and he begins to perspire. He does so occasionally when moving from that heat into air-conditioned comfort.
Hormones out of balance
Ezcema can result when the body overproduces certain hormones. Low thyroid function is a possible reason for eczema. In more serious hypothyroidism, the skin receives less than one fourth of the normal blood supply.
Nourishment to the skin is reduced and waste products are not removed completely via the skin. In some cases, it even causes the eczema odor mentioned earlier. Of course, scaling, blemishing,blistering and oozing results.
Digestion and diet
An unhealthy stomach which does not digest food and extract the nutrients suitable for the running of the body can lead to other body mechanisms malfunctioning, including the skin. Allergic reactions to foods and the dysfunction of the intestinal tract also prompts the irritation of the skin.
My husband does have a problem when digesting foods that are not clean, or when he over indulges in a certain foods like spicy noodles and coffee. Handling food in a hygienic manner and a proper balance in nutrients are necessary for the prevention of eczema.
Exposure to toxins
Exposure to toxic substances can cause congestion in the kidney and liver when they are overloaded. The burden of the added toxicity thus falls on the skin.
We come into contact with toxins in three ways, via the air, the food we digest and absorption through the skin. These can cause hypersensitivity in the skin and thus eczema.
A stressful lifestyle
Something that is difficult to avoid in this modern day and age, stress is a leading factor that induces a range of skin conditions including that of eczema.
Stress produces a hormone called Cortisol which destroys friendly bacteria in the intestinal tract. The adrenal glands are also stimulated. A chain reaction is triggered, and at the end of the chain are a whole host of diseases including eczema.
Coping with eczema: suggestions for sufferers
Be wary of the materials used to make your clothes.
When buying clothes, try not to select those that make use of uncomfortable or coarse materials, even if these seem more fashionable. Rough materials are often reaction inducing and will cause the skin to become irritated.
My husband selects his shirts carefully, making sure that they are made of softer cotton, which is more comfortable and will not react untowardly with the skin.
Keep the house very clean.
Keeping the home really sanitary is important in promoting the healing of eczema. A colleague of mine has a daughter who, unfortunately, experiences very bad bouts of it. She had to leave her job just so that she can ensure a thoroughly clean home for her daughter. The 9 year old has rather ugly red welts on her face and shin. The dermatologist advised cleanliness as the solution for the rather itchy problem.
It takes a little bit more effort from me to keep my home dust free and clean, for the fact that I have two little dogs at home. But good hygiene goes a long way in preventing eczema and other health conditions, so it is a step well taken.
Lotions for relief of itching
Lotions are always prescribed to prevent itching and keep the skin moist. These lotions are available over the counter at pharmacies or are otherwise prescribed by a doctor. They contain moisturizing ingredients, hydrocortisone or coal tar, all of which work to relieve itching. To be applied on damp skin, after-shower application is recommended.
Cold compresses can also relieve itching. It is a form of hydrotherapy (treatment with water) that reduces inflammation and itchiness. Soaking a clean, wet cloth in cold water and leaving it on affected areas helps to relieve itchiness.
These remediate the instances of eczema when they occur, but a proper balanced diet,rich in antioxidants to nourish the skin, remains the best way to control eczema.
Watch your diet.
Hence, a diet of fresh foods, preferably raw and balanced in their nutrients helps keep the body healthy and wards off eczema. Malnourishment to the skin results from lack of nutrients and substances.
Consuming whole foods (like whole grain) and fresh juices introduces proper nutrients into the body. Foods high in Vitamin E would definitely nourish the skin, such as vegetable oils, nuts, avocados and seeds. Foods in other antioxidants would doubtless help in the maintenance of good general health.
Rub, do not scratch.
Scratching usually introduces dirt into the skin, so rubbing as opposed to using the nails to scratch is recommended by dermatologists. This reduces the instances of skin breakage and redness. My husband usually reminds me to rub his back rather than scratch it for him for this very reason.
Eczema is an unenviable but bearable condition, if one knows how todeal with it in the right way.
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