Myths about Eczema
Eczema is a very common skin condition affecting between 15 -20 per cent of children and 1-2 per cent of adults. Despite how common it is, there are many myths surrounding this condition.
MYTH: Eczema is the same as dermatitis
FACT: Dermatitis is a general term used to describe inflammation of the skin. There are different types of dermatitis, but the two most common are contact dermatitis (often referred to as dermatitis), and atopic dermatitis (eczema).
Dermatitis affects most people at some time, and is characterised by red, swollen or blistered skin, which can be intensely itchy. It’s generally a result of skin coming into contact with chemicals or substances that cause an allergic or irritant response.
Eczema is chronic (persistent or recurrent) skin inflammation that appears as red, scaly and itchy skin. Sometimes tiny blisters containing clear fluid can form and the area can weep. Eczema is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors and can occur anywhere on the body. In young children it typically occurs on the scalp, trunk, limbs and face. Eczema symptoms can vary in their duration and severity.
MYTH: Eczema is no big deal – it’s just dry skin
FACT: All of us experience dry skin from time to time. However, eczema is more than dry skin. Eczema has a genetic basis whereby the integrity of the skin barrier is impaired. Once the skin barrier is damaged, skin loses moisture and becomes dry and scaly. Irritants can then enter the skin and activate the immune system, producing an inflammatory response, that makes the skin red and itchy. While one of the symptoms of eczema is dry skin, the predominant symptom of eczema is an intense itch. Sometimes prolonged scratching can cause the skin to bleed, which can lead to infection.
MYTH: Family history of eczema means your child will get it too
FACT: A family history of eczema does increase the likelihood of children developing eczema. If both parents have eczema, there is an 80 per cent chance that their children will also develop it.[i] However, family history doesn’t automatically mean your child will have the condition as well.
MYTH: If you have eczema, you’ll develop asthma and hay fever
FACT: Eczema has been linked to asthma and hay fever. Children with a family history of asthma or hay fever are at an increased risk of developing eczema. Research shows that up to 40 per cent of infants with eczema go on to develop asthma and/or hay fever.[ii] However, not all people with eczema develop asthma or hay fever, and not all people with asthma or hay fever develop eczema.
MYTH: Eczema is a childhood condition
FACT: Eczema can occur at any age but mostly begins in early childhood. The majority of cases appear in babies aged two to six months and disappear around six years of age. More than half of all people with eczema develop it before they’re 12 months old, with 20 per cent developing it before the age of five.[iii] Eczema usually tends to become less of a problem in adulthood, although flare-ups can still occur.
MYTH: Eczema is contagious
FACT: While eczema presents as a red, flaky or even weepy rash, it’s not contagious.
MYTH: Eczema is caused by food allergies
FACT: Eczema is not caused by food allergies. However, it’s common for people with eczema to have or develop allergies, including food allergies. Research shows that up to 30 per cent of infants with eczema, with a family history of allergy will develop a food allergy. [iv] Many infants with moderate or severe eczema will also have an allergy to food/s. Sometimes removing foods from the diet can help control eczema symptoms. However, this should only be done under the supervision of an allergy specialist.
MYTH: Eczema is caused by stress
FACT: Stress doesn’t cause eczema but it can trigger flare-ups. Eczema can also cause stress which can make it harder to avoid scratching.
MYTH: Eczema leaves scars
FACT: Eczema doesn’t cause scars. However, the incessant scratching or rubbing of the skin can cause your skin to become thick and leathery. However, scarring can be avoided by managing your eczema well.
MYTH: Eczema is a sign of poor hygiene
FACT: Eczema has nothing to do with poor hygiene. In fact, it can be made worse by frequent hand-washing, or through the use of soap that dries out the skin. Instead, use soap-free, hypoallergenic cleansers and body washes that are free from lanolin, parabens and fragrances. These will help soothe skin and restore moisture, without irritating dry, itchy skin.
MYTH: Eczema can be cured
FACT: While some children will grow out of eczema some people will have the condition on and off at various times of their life. The goal is to prevent future flare-ups and to manage symptoms if you have a flare-up.
MYTH: Using creams only makes it worse
FACT: Using an eczema-friendly moisturiser can help restore moisture to the skin and help relieve, dry, itchy, flaky skin. Avoid using products that contain lanolin, parabens and fragrances.
MYTH: There is no effective treatment for eczema
FACT: Eczema treatment aims to reduce inflammation, reduce itching, and to heal the skin to prevent future flare-ups, but sometimes it can be hard to manage and control. If you’re still having difficulty managing your symptoms and controlling your eczema, your doctor may be able to prescribe medications to help.
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[i] Eczema Association of Australia, Facts About Eczema https://www.eczema.org.au/eczema-facts/
[ii] Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis), https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/skin-allergy/eczema
[iii] Eczema Association of Australia, Facts About Eczema https://www.eczema.org.au/eczema-facts/
[iv] Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy, Eczema (Atopic Dermatitis), https://www.allergy.org.au/patients/skin-allergy/eczema