Every day we’re exposed to thousands of different substances—from the foods we eat to personal care products we use to things we come in contact with in our environment. Occasionally a particular substance will set off an allergic reaction, which can take a number of different forms—from difficulty breathing, runny nose, and itchy, watery eyes to changes in our skin, known as eczema. Here let’s explore what eczema is and what you can do about it.
What triggers an immune system response?
Your immune system serves a very important job in your body—protecting you from viruses, bacteria, and other things that could make you sick. Occasionally, however, your immune system gets its signals crossed and treats certain substances—foods, pollens, ingredients in personal care products, etc., as “foreign invaders”—even if they typically aren’t harmful. Such substances are called allergens, and when you have this type of response, it’s an allergic reaction.
Function of the skin
Our skin is the first barrier we have against the outside world. It prevents the loss of moisture, reduces the harmful effects of UV radiation from the sun, and is a sensory organ that detects touch and temperature. “When your skin starts to change as the result of an allergic reaction, such as swell or get red and itchy, it can be extremely upsetting and concerning, especially if the cause is not known,” says Dr. Z.
What is allergic eczema?
Allergic eczema, also known as contact dermatitis, is an itchy skin rash that develops when you come into contact with an allergen. Onset of allergic eczema can occur within hours or even days after you’ve been exposed to the allergen that triggered it. Eczema is common among infants, but it affects older children and adults as well. Though the root cause varies, the result is skin that does not hold moisture properly, which leads to extremely sensitive dry, red patches of skin that are prone to infection.
“With the skin so dry, it does not function properly as a barrier to the outside world, reproduction of skin cells slows, and the nonstop scratching prevents healing,” explains Dr. Z. “Because the skin is unable to hydrate itself properly, treatment for eczema involves the creation of an extra, artificial layer to aid in water retention.”
Childhood eczema can be an indicator of allergies in adulthood
According to Dr. Z, another problem to be aware of is that eczema is often the first manifestation in a string of allergies to come. “About 50 percent of children with severe eczema ultimately develop asthma, and approximately 75 percent will develop allergic rhinitis, or sniffling and sneezing due to allergies,” says Dr. Z.
“Years down the road, the patient will remain sensitive to the same allergens that triggered their eczema, only now those allergens trigger different reactions.” So instead of inflamed skin, a person may experience inflamed airways or a clogged nose when exposed. If you have worsening eczema, or a new onset of eczema, it’s likely due to a contact allergen, which is best evaluated by patch testing.
Contact us for a consultation
If you suspect you have eczema or another type of allergic skin condition, schedule a consultation. We can evaluate your condition and do patch testing to pinpoint the exact allergen and come up with an effective treatment plan.