Te mate harehare Eczema

Eczema (atopic dermatitis) is a very common skin condition that causes patches of dry, itchy skin that become red. It is most common in tamariki (children) but can also develop in adults. It is not an infection or contagious.

Symptoms of eczema

Eczema causes your skin to be:

  • dry
  • itchy
  • cracked
  • inflamed.

Itchiness is the main symptom of eczema — it can be moderate to severe, and is often worse at night.

Inflamed skin can look red on white skin. It may be more difficult to see on brown and black skin — it could look purple or grey instead.

Areas affected by eczema

Mild eczema usually shows up in 1 or 2 areas of your skin. When it gets worse in a severe flare up, many areas of your skin can be affected. This can last for several weeks.

Eczema can affect any area of the skin.

  • In pēpi (babies), it is often seen on their face, body, arms and legs.
  • In older tamariki (children), it is often the skin in the creases behind their knees, wrists, elbows and ankles.
  • In adults, it can affect any part of the body, with common areas being the wrists, inside elbows, back of knees, torso and limbs. Sometimes it can affect the face and genital areas.

Quality of life

Eczema can also affect quality of life. It can affect sleep, self-esteem — particularly if it is visible on your hands or face — work and personal relationships.

See a healthcare provider if your tamariki is waking at night or missing school because of their eczema.

Infected eczema

Visit a healthcare provider if your eczema shows these symptoms:

  • pus, weeping or crusting
  • pustules (yellow or white pimples)
  • blisters
  • fever
  • pain
  • the infected eczema is bigger than a 10 cent coin
  • small red spots appear around eczema.

Causes of eczema

We do not know exactly what causes eczema. Eczema is likely caused by a combination of factors, such as:

  • family history (genes)
  • dry skin
  • an immune system problem
  • triggers in the environment.

It is more common to have eczema if you have asthma or hayfever or a family member has either of them.

Sometimes different types of dermatitis cause symptoms similar to eczema.

Diagnosing eczema

See a healthcare provider if you have symptoms of eczema.

They will usually diagnose you based on your skin. They will ask about your symptoms, when they started, and if anything seems to trigger them.

A dermatologist (skin specialist) can also diagnose and treat eczema. Blood tests and skin tests are not usually necessary.

Treating eczema

There is no cure for eczema. However, many tamariki find their symptoms naturally improve as they get older.

Treating eczema is based on managing the symptoms.

The main treatments for eczema are:

  • moisturisers — used daily to stop your skin getting dry
  • topical corticosteroids — creams and ointments that reduce itching and redness during flare-ups.

Treating infected eczema

Eczema-prone skin is more likely to get infected and this will make the eczema worse. Infected eczema will not improve with your usual treatments.

If you think your eczema is infected, see your doctor as soon as possible. They may prescribe a short treatment with antibiotics, which should clear the infection.

It is important for you or your tamaiti (child) to take the antibiotics every day until they are finished, even if the infected eczema seems to have cleared up. The antibiotics need to keep killing the infection in the body after the skin has healed.

Self care and prevention

Although there is no cure for eczema, you can manage or avoid flare ups by:

  • avoiding irritants (triggers)
  • bathe regularly
  • keep skin well moisturised
  • use steroid creams when needed
  • pat your skin dry instead of rubbing
  • avoid scratching eczema to avoid infection
  • use fragrance-free detergents, cleansers, makeup, and other skin care products
  • wear gloves and protective clothing whenever you handle chemicals
  • wear loose-fitting clothes made from soft fibres, like cotton.

Dermatitis — DermNetNZ

Information about what eczema is, the different types and treatments.

KidsHealth NZ — Eczema

Information about eczema in tamariki, what causes it, signs and symptoms and management in 3 easy steps.

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