What is Eczema and how to treat it

Eczema is a very common skin condition, seen in many children and adults. Those who regularly suffer from eczema will know the grief and misery caused by an eczema flare-up, but might not be aware of all the potential solutions. At London Doctors Clinic, our affordable private GP's are committed to working together with their patients, to find a better way of managing the condition.


Eczema Symptoms

Eczema, also known as dermatitis, means inflammation of the skin. When we talk about eczema, we are usually referring to a particular type of eczema known as atopic eczema.

It is characterised by generally dry skin, that becomes red and very itchy. This can often lead to the skin blistering and weeping, resulting in skin infections. Eczema typically occurs in flares, meaning that skin can become very dry and itchy for no apparent reason and for variable lengths of time.

People from Asian, African and African-Caribbean backgrounds tend to have different patterns of eczema from white skin types. For example, they may have eczema around the front of the knees and the back of the elbows as well as in the skin creases. They may also notice red bumps across the chest and abdomen as well as changes in skin tone in the areas most affected by the eczema, although this usually returns to normal after some time. 


Who gets Eczema?

Most eczema is diagnosed in babies, however it is possible to get eczema for the first time as an adult. In the UK, 1 in 5 children have eczema, with most children growing out of it by the time they become teenagers.  Eczema is becoming more common the UK, and is thought to be due to changing environmental factors.

Eczema in babies

Most eczema is diagnosed in babies, with 1 in 5 children suffering from eczema in the UK.


Causes of Eczema

Eczema is caused by an interaction of your genes with the environment. The main type of eczema we talk about (atopic eczema) is often associated with other allergic conditions like asthma or hay fever.

There are also several potential triggers for eczema. These include:

  • Irritants (e.g. certain soaps and detergents)
  • Certain skin infections
  • Very high or very low temperature
  • Abrasive fabrics (e.g. wool)
  • Dietary factors (especially in children)
  • Inhaled allergens (e.g. house dust mites, pollens, pet dander, mould)
  • Hormonal changes in women
  • Stress (though the stress may also be a consequence of the eczema itself!)


There are also many other types of eczema which can be caused by directly touching chemicals that irritate the skin (irritant dermatitis) or allergic reactions to things like leather or jewellery (allergic contact dermatitis). Some eczema causes circular patches on the skin (discoid eczema), other cause blisters across the palms (dyshidrotic eczema) and some eczema can occur following conditions that affect the legs (varicose eczema).

Do not get too worried about the different names and types of eczema but do be aware that there may be many causes for your skin condition. Your GP can help you figure out the cause and discuss management of the condition with you.


How is eczema diagnosed?

As it is a long term condition, a diagnosis of atopic eczema is usually made after 12 months of itchy skin.

Your doctor may also consider the following:

  • 12 months of generally dry skin
  • Visibly irritated skin creases (in children under 18 months, the doctor may look for irritated skin on the cheeks or backs of knees and elbows)
  • History of asthma or hay fever (in children under four years, the doctor may ask about these conditions in the child’s parents or siblings)
  • Condition started before the age of two (this does not apply to children under four years old)


How to treat eczema

Avoid drying soaps and use moisturisers (emollients) daily and liberally! Our doctors can also prescribe special moisturisers which can be applied directly to the troublesome area of skin and reduce symptoms.

Steroid creams. In cases of severe eczema or particularly bad flare ups, steroid ointments may be prescribed by your doctor. Steroids, like all medications, have side effects so this should be discussed with your doctor.

Eczema moisturiser steroid cream

Moisturisers and steroid creams are useful in managing eczema flare-ups


Eczema triggers

There are many ways to avoid the things in your home that may trigger a flare of eczema. For example, try turning down the heating or water temperature as high temperature can dry out the skin and make itching worse. Consider opting for cotton clothes rather than rougher materials which may irritate the skin.

Also think about stresses in your life. Stress can make scratching more common, so reducing stress can help prevent further irritation of the skin, scarring and infection.

At the London Doctors Clinic, we also offer that may help you figure out what is triggering your eczema so you can avoid it in the future!

Support for eczema sufferers

Eczema is a very visible illness, which can be unpredictable and cause discomfort, so it is important to find the support you need. The National Eczema Society has lots of resources for people living with eczema, including groups and a helpline. Psychological support can also be accessed through our clinics. Our doctors are always happy to speak with you about your concerns and you can even book a same day doctor appointment.

If you are worried about your skin or the skin of your child, book an appointment at any London Clinic of our 12 central locations! We do same day appointments and our GPs are more than happy to have a chat with you!

By Samara Linton