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Eczema: More than just a skin blemish

By HENRY OKONKWO

People with flawless skin are often admired and commended by peers.

While others that have blemish-filled skin are most likely to face rejection and scorn from different quarters. Even with this notion still, skin infections are so easily overlooked. And this is mainly because they are usually not life-threatening. So individuals are quick to shrug-off talks concerning skin health conditions.

However, medical experts have hinted that although most skin infections may not cause death, they can go a long way in killing the psyche and social reputation of an infected person. This is because the skin is vital to the way one is perceived. And damaged mind could trigger feelings like depression, low self-esteem and anger.

Dermatologists have continually warned that skin disease like Eczema, should be taken serious. This is because skin infections have become a significant problem all over the world today. Also recent studies have shown that itchy skin condition can lead to a number of other ills like heart diseases.

Eczema is a general term for many types of skin inflammation (dermatitis). The terms eczema and dermatitis are often used to describe the same condition. Eczema is a non-infectious inflammation of the skin. It may be acute, sub acute or chronic and is influenced by many factors, i.e. constitutional, irritant (vaseline, mineral oils, soaps and detergents), allergens, heat, stress, infection etc.

An acute eczema characteristically shows redness, swelling, papules, blisters, oozing and crusts. Progressing to the sub acute stage, the skin is still red, but becomes drier and scalier and may show pigment changes. In the chronic stage lichenification, excoriations, scaling and cracks are seen.

In a recent conducted by dermatologists of the United States of America, eczema can do more damage as many are wont to adduce to it.

According to Dr. Jonathan Silverberg in an American Academy of Dermatology news release, people dealing with this itchy skin condition may have other medical conditions to cope with as well.

“Eczema, causes dry, red patches of skin and intense itchiness. And it affects millions of children and adults all over the world. However, although it affects the skin, eczema is not just skin-deep. This disease can have a serious impact on patients’ quality of life and overall health, both physically and mentally,” said Dr. Silverberg, who is a professor in dermatology, at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

“Eczema has been linked to an increased risk of health conditions such as asthma, hay fever, food allergy, obesity and heart disease. The reasons for this are unclear. But, the connection may be eczema-related inflammation affecting the entire body, he said. Or, the negative effects of eczema symptoms on sleep and health habits may play a role,” he added.

Again, consultant dermatologist of the University of Abuja Teaching Hospital, Dr. Perpetua Ibekwe, adds that people with eczema also have a higher risk of skin and other infections. And the frequent intense itching of eczema and its effect on the skin’s appearance may contribute to a greater risk of mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression. “Having eczema may take a psychological toll, too. It can really have a major impact on the self-esteem and overall well-being of the patient,” she said. “Since eczema often starts in early childhood, it can affect self-worth and identity. And those factors may influence lifestyle habits. Also stress is often a trigger, leading to a worsening of the itch and rash that follows,” she said.

However on treatment of eczema, doctors caution on the usage of different unverified home remedies to treat any skin infection. “If you have eczema and you suspect that you have a skin infection of any kind, call your doctor immediately,” advised Dr. Charles Odionye of i-Well Medical Consultancy. “Treatments are available and the sooner they’re started, the faster your recovery.”

Dr. Ibekwe also added her voice in calling Nigerians to always seek expert attention as early as possible when they notice any rash on their skin. “Nigerians should be alert, informed and always seek medical help early. They should not be deceived by quacks that claim to cure skin infections instantaneously. The treatment they proffer is mainly not scientific. Sadly, it is when the situation becomes worse that patients would now go to a dermatologist. Eczema doesn’t kill, but it has cosmetic effects. Prevention is always better than cure,” she admonished.

According to medical experts controlling flare-ups of eczema symptoms may help reduce the risk of problems such as sleep disturbance, but heart disease and other conditions may yet develop due to eczema’s long-term effects on the body. That’s why it’s important for treatment to not only improve symptoms in the short-term, but also to prevent and ward eczema off you. You can take steps to manage your symptoms and lessen the severity of outbreaks. Such measures include:

1. avoidance of over-bathing;

2. applying moisturizer frequently, especially after bathing;

3. bathing in warm, not hot, water and using a mild soap;

4. limiting or avoiding contact with known irritants like soaps, perfumes, detergents, jewelry, environmental irritants, etc.;

5. wearing loose-fitting clothing (cotton clothing may be less irritating for many people than wool or synthetic fibers);

6. the use of cool compresses to help control itching;

7. avoiding foods that cause allergic reactions;

8. exercise, meditation, or other stress-management techniques can help those for whom stress is a trigger;

9. wearing protective gloves for activities that require frequent submersion of the hands in water;

10. avoiding activities that make you hot and sweaty as well as abrupt changes in temperature and humidity;

11. using a humidifier in both winter (when the heating dries the atmosphere) and in the summer (if air conditioning is used because it depletes the moisture in the air);

12. maintaining cool temperatures in sleeping areas, because heat can lead to sweating that worsens itching and irritation.

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