Eczema, also known as atopic dermatitis, is an inflammation of the skin that occurs in some individuals, causing the skin to become red, bumpy, flaky and dry. Skin can feel very sore and sometimes itchy, and the redness can spread. This reaction is sometimes in response to an allergen, but we do not always find out what, and sometimes it is prompted by other changes such as cold weather. Eczema may run in your family, or you or your family members may suffer from related conditions such as asthma, hay fever and allergies. You may have had similar episodes before, and they may recur. Eczema can be graded from very mild, with red dots or a rash, to severe, where the skin becomes swollen, blistered or cracked and very sore. Areas of eczema can become infected, with weeping or crusting over the top, soreness and failure to respond to eczema treatment. If you think this is a mild case, covering a small area, you could see your pharmacist and they can recommend emollients, which are medical grade moisturisers.
Eczema is not contagious, but there is a genetic link, so family members may suffer from eczema or other associated conditions such as asthma or hay fever.
If you suspect any specific allergens prompted your eczema, avoid these where possible. Allergies commonly causing an eczema flare may come from the environment, such as house dust mite, pet dander, mould or pollen, or it may come from substances you come into contact with, such as wool, perfume, soap or detergents, or foods such as certain white fish, shellfish, nuts or fruit. Breaks in dry, cracked skin, or where you have scratched, can allow bacteria to get in. This will produce further soreness, crusting, and any treatments will not work as effectively. If you suspect your eczema is infected, see your doctor so they can consider antibiotics – either in a cream or tablet form. Moisturise with an emollient at least twice per day, and you can use this more often if itchy, sore or after hand washing, if the hands are affected. Your doctor may prescribe a steroid cream for a short period of time and will suggest you continue with an emollient too. Keep fingernails short to avoid increasing the risk of infection when scratching.
You may be fit for work, depending on how bothersome the eczema is. If you suspect or know that allergens or irritants at work are responsible for your eczema you may need to avoid these while awaiting medical advice.
Using the descriptions above, if you would rate your eczema as severe, infected or not responding to treatments from your pharmacist or any eczema treatments you have been prescribed previously, book an appointment with your doctor. Depending on how bothersome and widespread the eczema is, you may decide to ask for an urgent or routine appointment. The doctor can prescribe steroid creams, antibiotics or emollients to treat the eczema, depending on their assessment.