To those who suffer from eczema, it can be defined as misery. And with sooooooo many people suffering from eczema, that could easily be you or someone you hold dear. We know how frustrating it can be to solve the mystery of eczema, what may be causing it, and most importantly, how to get rid of it. Out of desperation, many people turn to steroid creams, bleach baths, and expensive product after expensive product without any relief. We get it, — desperate for a solution, many families go through the misery of a child being diagnosed with eczema when they are young. We are asked at soooo many events/festivals/markets we attend, what product(s) their children, or themselves, can use, so we’ve made it a mission to provide relief for those affected.
Eczema at a Glance:
- Eczema is chronic inflammation of the skin that’s often red, sensitive, and irritated.
- It not only damages your skin but attacks your mental and emotional wellbeing.
- For many people, eczema is accompanied by other allergic conditions, like asthma.
- It’s estimated that more than 223 million people, of which around 43 million are aged 1-4, suffer from eczema.
- The cause of eczema is unknown.
- There is no cure for eczema.
Let's Break It Down
- Atopic = possible genetic predisposition to developing allergies
- Derma = skin + (t)itis = inflammation (irritation/redness)
Atopic dermatitis is the most common form of eczema and the two terms are virtually synonymous. Regardless of what you call it, eczema wreaks havoc on your skin, turning what should be smooth, sleek, and supple into a desolated, cracked, and irritable wasteland. Not only that, but eczema can make your skin red, dry, sensitive and extremely itchy. Severe eczema is especially malicious, rearing its ugly head in the form of blisters and weeping or peeling skin, kind of like a poison ivy rash.
But this does not begin to describe the reality of eczema symptoms. If you have eczema then you know the devastation all too well.
Eczema Symptoms & How They Affect Quality of Life
- The burning and itching are relentless.
- The pain keeps you awake at night, robbing you of sleep.
- The severe itching may have you scratching until you bleed.
- It is a constant distraction and can even dominate your thoughts, impairing concentration.
- It can haunt you for years, even your entire life.
As bad as these symptoms are, watching your child suffer from eczema is even worse. You’d give your life to relieve your child’s suffering but feel so helpless against this invisible foe. Here is also a great article to READ.
While there are countless eczema treatment creams, lotions, and regimens, many people find them to be ineffective. Those treatments which are effective often only work for only a short while.
“The symptoms go away briefly, and then flare up again leaving you more frustrated than ever!”
The terror of eczema doesn’t end there. Unsightly red, scaly skin is often the source of cruel teasing and verbal abuse. Being harassed, bullied, and self-conscious about your appearance is embarrassing and robs you of your confidence. All these factors combined can lead to feelings of hopelessness, despair, and even guilt or anger.
To a large degree, the cause(s) of atopic dermatitis (AD) remain a mystery. Several factors have been identified that suggest you may possibly develop AD, but the medical community at large has yet to identify and agree on a common cause. There are many different types of skin inflammations which fall under the "Eczema" umbrella, like contact dermatitis, which can further the confusion and frustration regarding this topic.
Further Understanding Eczema
What Causes Eczema?
Theory #1: You Inherit It
Evidence strongly supports the idea that eczema is a genetic immunological disorder similar to asthma or hay fever.
In fact, if just one parent has eczema, hay fever, or asthma then their child has a high chance of also having eczema. If both parents have eczema, hay fever or asthma then that child has a 1 in 2 chance of getting eczema. By contrast, the child of two parents without eczema, hay fever, or asthma has only a 1 in 10 chance of being born with eczema. Not only does this information highlight the hereditary nature of eczema, it also shows the strong connection between eczema and those two other seemingly unrelated diseases – asthma and hay fever.
Since asthma, hay fever and eczema are so closely linked we can assume that the cause(s) for all three diseases, while they may be different, are definitely very similar. If the condition is a genetic disorder then it’s likely that eczema results from certain altered genes. If those genes can be identified then we may be able to identify precisely how those damaged genes affect the body’s development and function.
But when you think about the immense complexity of the human body, the scale of this project takes on new meaning. Just think: the blueprints and operating instructions for the entire development and function of the human body is contained in just 46 chromosomes. Those chromosomes contain a total of approximately 20,500 individual genes which interact with one another in ways we really don’t understand to enact and oversee, if you will, the construction and management of the operations of the human body.
Theory #2: Not Enough Exercise (for your Immune System)
Another theory that warrants mentioning is the Hygiene Hypothesis. This theory asserts that the immune system develops through exposure to germs, allergens and the like. Think of a muscle; if it’s never used or exposed to adversity, it will never strengthen and develop.
The Hygiene Hypothesis says the immune system is much the same. In order to develop a robust immune system it must face and overcome a steady stream of challenges. Interestingly enough, eczema is more prevalent in urban populations. But think about it: on the whole, country kids play in the dirt, walk around barefoot, handle animals, and eat who knows what during their outdoor adventures whereas urban and suburban children live in a much more sterilized society where they are slathered in antibacterial hand sanitizers and consider dirt a novelty.
Think of the immune system as a militia; a foreign invader steps foot on domestic soil (on or in our bodies) and begins pillaging and plundering. The militia (immune system) is called in and it attacks the enemy forces with increasingly intense levels of violence until the threat is removed.
The cool part is, the militia remembers that specific enemy, his tactics, and his weaknesses until the body itself ceases to exist. So the next time a known enemy tries invading your body, your immune system will have a much easier time of defeating it.
With this concept in mind, let’s look at our country friend. His immune system was born into a hostile world of constant invasion, it’s been sink or swim for his internal militia ever since he popped out of the womb. That militia quickly establishes itself as a supreme fighting force and gains confidence through each victory.
So when an irritant or allergen comes along it thinks, “Oh, it’s just a piece of pet dander, that’s no real danger to us, just brush it aside and move on to bigger and better things.” In fact, that militia is so ready for battle it keeps a constant vigil and sets up passive defences to keep the bad stuff out – like a sound, intact moisture barrier upon the skin.
However, the urban child who has not faced wave upon wave of germs has a rather flabby and lackadaisical security system. Think of not one, but quite a few security officers :) When action finally does arrive in the form of pet dander, a bee sting, or a common bacterium the Security officers rush to the rescue, heart's racing and guns blazing.
They are literally shooting before they aim. They overreact and a relatively harmless invader that should be taken care of subtly and with ease is instead treated as if it were a flesh eating virus. The site of invasion becomes inflamed, red and irritable.
To make things worse, this rather sad fighting force spends most of its time in the break room, and the body assumes it has no need for strong outer defences. For people with eczema, one of the core problems with their skin is the lack of an effective moisture barrier. The skin is not properly doing its job, the barrier is leaking – water going out and germs coming in – increasing the chances and occurrence of foreign invaders.
Theory #3: You're Being Irritated
Eczema caused by irritation due to chemicals, physical materials, or even harsh climates and pollution is often called contact dermatitis.
With this type of eczema, the cause is pretty simple: contact with anything that makes your skin break out in a dry, red, itchy rash. That irritant may be a harsh chemical that “angers” the skin like acetone, a physical irritant such as wool clothing, or it may be something you have an allergic response to like poison ivy.
Common irritants include acids, solvents, sodium lauryl sulfate (SLS), shampoos, pesticides, and fabric softeners. Some common allergens include poison oak, poison ivy, nickel, balsam of Peru, latex, fragrances, and certain antibiotics.
There are many different types of eczema with many different causes. We’ve only covered three potential causes of eczema and have been dealing largely with what causes the most common type of eczema, Atopic Dermatitis. We encourage you to take this knowledge and continue on with your own research. Eczema is complicated and can be incredibly frustrating to crack, but it’s not impossible! For more helpful information and to learn more about our personal journey with eczema, check out the additional resources below.