While we do discuss many conditions people can have with their skin, once a proper skincare routine is established, normal skin is relatively easy to take care of. It’s our body’s largest organ and has many functions. It’s flexible, relatively waterproof, it’s the first line of defence for our immune system against disease and keeps us warm or cool through regulating our body temperature.
Unfortunately, skin affected by eczema is different. It is usually dry and cracked with the outer protective layer of the skin being damaged. With this damage, the skin loses more water than normal which greatly slows the healing process.
The Role of Our Skin
The skin barrier2 appears to play a significant role in how effectively the skin functions, and why certain people get eczema while others do not. In healthy skin with a resilient skin barrier, allergens cannot penetrate deeper into the skin. Instead, bacteria and irritants are prevented from entering; the barrier also helps to protect proper levels of hydration in the skin. Research into the skin barrier has shown that there is a genetic predisposition to a weakened, defective skin barrier. This allows allergens to penetrate the deeper layers of the skin.
In addition, the defective skin barrier allows for increased interaction with environmental factors such as soap and detergent, house dust mites, hard water, infection and some topical medications and cosmetic products. This can result in a worsening of eczema symptoms, and a further breakdown of the skin barrier.
Our Immune System and Eczema
As most are aware, our immune system is very complex. The immune systems work around the clock to protect us from anything and everything. The “soldiers” of our immune system are our white blood cells. They are dispatched to protect, remove anything foreign and heal areas our immune system deem necessary.
In the case of eczema, the white blood cells will cause inflammation causing redness to appear. In addition to the redness, there are also other substances released that will cause itching. There are some researchers who believe individuals who suffer from eczema have a lower itch tolerance. Thus once your skin becomes inflamed and itchy, the urge to scratch cannot be ignored and the condition is worsened.
The itch-scratch-rash cycle as it is known only furthers the condition and in some cases makes eczema severe. So severe in fact it can cause sleeplessness, irritability, stress, thickening skin, and intense pain. The vicious cycle can do even more damage to the skin by tearing or scraping the skin. This then leads to bleeding and can allow bacteria to enter which then causes secondary infections.
Treatment of Eczema
For cases moderate to advanced cases of eczema where the symptoms have appeared, dermatologists will recommend and prescribe topical steroids and antihistamines. In addition to this treatment called Topical Calcineurin Inhibitors is another worthy addition to any eczema treatment regime.
Topical Calcineurin Inhibitors (TCIs) appear to prevent the release of the inflammatory substances that cause the red, itchy skin associated with eczema. This treatment works to calm and control the skin’s reaction. Speak with your dermatologist about treating your eczema with Topical Calcineurin Inhibitors.
As eczema is also contributed to hydration related issues, ensuring you are properly hydrated at all times can help to speed in the recovery of flare-ups and even help to reduce the frequency of them.
What Causes Flare-ups?
By nature, eczema symptoms can come and go. At times, symptoms can be more severe, or the rash and itching can completely disappear for long periods at a time. However, when symptoms suddenly reappear or become worse, it is called a ‘flare-up’. A number of different factors appear to trigger ‘flare-ups’ of eczema.
‘Flare ups’ can happen when your skin comes in contact with irritants like soap, detergents, abrasive clothing (e.g. wool and synthetic fibres), perfume, carpet fibres, or dust. Overheating, excessive sweating or low humidity can also trigger a ‘flare-up’.
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2 Cork MJ. The importance of skin barrier function. Journal of Dermatological Treatment (1997) 8;S7-S13
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