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Eczema, also called atopic dermatitis, is a very common skin disease. About 90% of the time, eczema occurs in children under 5 years old. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, 10% to 20% of all children around the world have eczema.  About half of these children will continue to have it as an adult, but it usually becomes milder in adulthood. However, adults with no history of eczema can get eczema for the first time. Although not contagious, eczema is becoming increasingly common.  You cannot get eczema by touching or caring for a child or person who has it.

Normal skin has the ability to maintain it’s moisture and protect itself from bacteria, allergens and most environmental damage. Skin with eczema is dries out very easily, creating microscopic breaks in the skin that makes it more prone to inflammation, severely dry skin and even infections.  Genetics play a role in eczema as research shows that if one or both parents have eczema, asthma, or hay fever, their child is more likely to develop eczema.

Eczema can occur on different parts of the body including the face, scalp, neck, ears, inner elbows, or back of knees, among other areas. Often skin can thicken and darken or be discolored due to prolonged inflammation. This darkening of skin is especially common in skin of color and can improve over time or with skin-lightening lotions and creams.

Diagnosing eczema requires a thorough physical examination by a dermatologist and interview with parents and the patient. On occasion, a biopsy or allergy patch testing may be required to help diagnose eczema and what is exacerbating the condition. People with eczema tend to be allergic to animals, plants, trees, pollen, dust mites, and many other triggers. Seeing an allergist can help to identify what might be causing or worsening eczema.

Treatment options for eczema:

Treating of the itch related to eczema is of the utmost importance. Because eczema is “the itch that rashes,” treating with topical moisturizers, steroids, and oral antihistamines can provide great results for most patients. Because skin that is affected with eczema is at high risk for infection, treatment and prevention of infection is another important treatment goal. Lifestyle changes such as avoiding triggers and allergens, taking cooler baths, avoiding fragrances and synthetic fabrics, and using dye and perfume free detergents can also help to prevent recurrences of eczema. Dupixent, the first biologic injectable medication to treat moderate to severe eczema, has been approved by the FDA and can have excellent results in patients with stubborn, persistent eczema.

Several studies have shown that probiotics can improve or prevent eczema. Probiotics are living microorganisms that can be found in cultured food, or liquid or tablet supplements. There are also some topical probiotics in products such as Avène thermal spray and La Roche Posay’s Lipikar balm. Probiotics can be consumed in tablet or liquid form or from foods like yogurt, kombucha, pickles and other fermented vegetables, miso or fermented milk. They help to support the growth of natural bacteria and inhibit the growth of bad bacteria that could trigger eczema. On occasion, due to illness, environmental factors, stress or taking antibiotic medications, the body’s bacterial flora can be disrupted and result in complications like allergies, yeast infections or inflammation.  By supplementing your body’s bacterial flora with topical and oral probiotics, you could boost your immune system, helping to reduce inflammation and eczema flares.

As with any medical treatment, always consult your dermatologist for careful evaluation and an adequate treatment plan targeted to your specific needs.  If you suspect you have eczema, we encourage you to make an appointment with Dr. Obayan, our board-certified dermatologist, for evaluation and a personalized treatment plan.