Although atopic eczema is predominantly a childhood disorder, it is not exclusive to childhood. 75% of cases start within the first year of life, but by the age of 10 it has disappeared in the majority of children.
The prevalence of eczema is on the increase and currently affects 12-15% of all school-age children and 2-10% of adults.
The Health Survey for England 2001 found the percentage of the population ever diagnosed with eczema was higher for women (16%) than for men (10%).
Eczema prevalence among adults was highest in those aged 16-24. For men there was no change in the prevalence of doctor-diagnosed eczema since 1995-1996, and only a small increase for women (from 15% in 1995-1996 to 16% in 2001).
Eczema is characterised by dry, red, scaly skin which is intensely itchy.
Although sores can occur anywhere on the body, the most common sites are where the skin creases – for example inside the elbows, behind the knees, the fronts of the ankles and around the neck. Younger children may also experience these symptoms on their cheeks.
Unfortunately the intense itchiness of eczema leads sufferers to scratch the affected areas causing the skin to break, in some cases drawing blood.
Infections may also occur resulting in blister-like sores and crusting is common.
Scab formation, scarring and thickening of the skin may also result.
Diagnosis and treatment
Diagnosis should be made by a registered GP.
Medications such as antihistamines (commonly used to treat allergic reactions) can be used to treat acute flare-ups, while use of steroid creams can reduce inflammation and help with skin healing.
If infection occurs, antibiotic creams or tablets may be necessary.
Once symptoms are controlled and healing is in process, potential triggers of eczema should be avoided.
House dust mites and pet fur are common triggers while food allergy and food stuffs may also be involved.