Understanding eczema… Is the first step to effectively managing your condition

Every year, eczema affects 5 million people in the UK. Around 2.4 million of those are children – that’s something like one in five children. The most important thing you can do if you have this skin condition is to get, and keep, your eczema under control. We can give you all the advice and information you need to minimise flare-ups and discomfort, and help you to get the most out of your medicines and treatments.

So what is eczema?

There are lots of different types of eczema. The most common is atopic eczema, which starts in childhood and is an inherited condition that’s often linked to asthma and hay fever. Other types of eczema include:

  • Allergic eczema, which is triggered by contact with an allergen or irritant
  • Gravitational or varicose eczema, which occurs on your legs when you have poor blood flow
  • Hand eczema, one of the most common types of eczema and also referred to as dermatitis - it mainly affects the palms but can also affect other parts of the hand

    Some people only have small areas of eczema, while others have it over their whole bodies. In babies and very young children it’s most common on the face, scalp and outer surface of the arms and legs; and in children, around joints on the arms and legs, such as the folds of the elbows or the backs of the knees.

    Eczema causes the skin to be itchy, dry, red, broken, scaly, thickened and cracked. In the event of a ‘flare-up’, skin gets progressively worse and can become extremely itchy, red, hot, dry and scaly, wet, weeping and swollen,and infected with bacteria.

How you can help manage your eczema… And even reduce the number of flare-ups
  1. Make a note of anything you think may have triggered a flare-up, and try to avoid it in the future.
  2. Make sure you fully understand how to use your eczema treatments. Your eczema is more likely to be controlled if you use your emollients every day for washing and moisturising.
  3. Learn to recognise flares-ups and signs of skin infections so you can treat them promptly.
  4. Keep your fingernails cut short to minimise damage from scratching and reduce the risk of infection. Cotton gloves or socks can be worn over hands at night time.
  5. If bedtime itching is disrupting your sleep, keep the bedroom cool (18°C) and use cotton linen and nightwear. You can also talk to your doctor about wraps, bandages or having some sedating antihistamines prescribed on a short-term basis to reduce night-time itching.
  6. Make sure you have regular reviews with your health visitor, nurse or GP.
  7. If you have any concerns at all about your eczema, speak to the pharmacy team or a health care professional.
Look out for signs of infected skin… And act quickly to cure the problem
  • The following symptoms may be a sign that you have an infection:
  • Your skin appears scabby and may weep or pus
  • Your eczema doesn’t respond to normal emollient and topical steroid treatment and suddenly gets worse
  • You feel generally unwell, feverish, lethargic and have a high temperature

If you notice any of these make an appointment to see your doctor and tell them you think you have a bacterial infection. In the meantime, don’t use bandages or cover the eczema.

When to seek emergency help

If you spot clusters of blisters that look like early cold sores and/or circular ulcers that may be weeping and crusty, and you’re feeling feverish, lethargic and unwell, contact your GP immediately and request an emergency appointment - you may have eczema herpeticum. This is a viral infection that can spread all over the body and become very serious, so act quickly to treat the problem.

Know your triggers

Eczema flare-ups are often ‘triggered’ by environmental factors. In some cases it could be obvious what’s doing it, but sometimes it could take a little longer to work out. Triggers can include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Soaps and detergents
  • Foods like egg, wheat, nuts and milk
  • Animal fur, hair, skin cells or saliva
  • Sweating
  • House dust mites
  • Stress
  • Perfumes
  • Pollens
  • Central heating
  • Materials like synthetic fabrics and wool
  • Moulds
  • Humidity and changes in temperature
  • Dust
  • Chemical agents

To help you identify your particular triggers, come in store and ask the pharmacy team about our Allergy Testing Service.

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