Eczema or atopic dermatitis is a long-lasting, itchy inflammatory condition of the skin which may become red, dry, blistered, crusted, scaly or thickened.
Eczema can affect any part of the skin but most commonly manifests in parts of the body where skin folds are found such as the elbows or backs of the knees. The cause of eczema is not yet known but it is thought to involve an inherited tendency towards sensitive skin.
Although eczema can flare up for no apparent reason, sufferers may notice particular triggers that seem to worsen their condition. Some common examples are allergens such as pollen, house dust mites or pet fur, irritants such as detergents and soaps and rough clothing fabrics such as wool. Rarely, certain foods such as milk, eggs, wheat or nuts may trigger a flare-up.
Although eczema cannot be cured, it can be controlled by avoiding any known triggers of the condition. A range of medications are also available to help control symptoms and emollients in the form of creams, lotions, or oils can prevent dehydration of the skin and help it repair as well as relieving itchiness.
In the UK, up to 20% of children and up to 10% of adults have eczema and the condition is equally common in men and women.