Eczema is an itchy, weeping, scaly skin condition which mainly affects babies and children, but can persist into adult life.

In babies it tends to occur on the face, trunk and nappy (diaper) area, and in this age group there is a strong association with food allergy. Many babies settle down when they are switched from cow’s milk to soy milk, but if the condition persists and requires ongoing treatment, then you should speak to your doctor. A paediatric allergist (or a paediatrician with a special interest in allergy) can often help.

As babies become infants and small children, the eczema tends to favour the inner elbows and behind the knees (the so-called flexural areas), although exceptions always occur. And as the child grows to pre-school age, there is often a shift from “food allergy-eczema” to “inhalant allergy-snuffly nose-asthma”, and this progression has been called the allergic march. Children will often (but not always!) lose their allergy to milk or egg, and become sensitive to dust mite or pollens or animal hair or moulds.

If eczema does continue to be a problem in school age and in adults, then the treatment must include assessment of these airborne allergies and subsequent treatment for these allergies. In the last 3 years, there have been several scientific trials published in the best immunology and allergy journals which have shown that breathing in house dust mite (for example when dusting or vacuuming) can cause itchy red skin and increased eczema within 24 hours in a person with eczema and dust mite allergy. Of course, if you have eczema, you knew this already.

So, what needs to be done to help control eczema. Sometimes a lot! Good skin care, relief of itch to stop scratching, control of angry skin and infected skin, management of airborne and/or dietary allergies, and relief of stress are all important. Speak to your doctor.

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