What Causes Eczema?

What Causes Eczema

Ask the most experienced dermatologist the question “what causes eczema?” and he or she will most likely answer your question with a question: “what type of eczema?” The word eczema actually means “skin inflammation”, and defines a group of skin conditions with similar symptoms such as dryness, irritation, swelling, and extreme itching.  Many eczemas are short lived, developing when the skin is exposed to an irritant, and resolving after the exposure ends.  The most common form of chronic eczema, “atopic dermatitis”, is reoccurring and long lasting.  It is this incurable form that is widely referred to when we use the word “eczema”.

The Well-known Eczema

Generally making its first appearance in infancy or childhood, this eczema is well known for its scaly rash and intensely distressful itching.  Irritants play a large role in this type of eczema as well.  Foods, infections, irritating chemicals, temperature extremes, humidity, and emotions can bring on episodes of symptoms known as “flare-ups”.  Scaling, thickening and cracking of the skin causes damage often leading to serious skin infections and scarring.   Breakouts may be widespread, covering large areas of the body, or may be limited to small, sensitive areas such as the face, hands, feet, bends of the arms, and backs of the knees.  And while research into what causes eczema has provided sufferers with strategies to avoid flare-ups, the true cause remains a mystery.

Doctors once thought eczema was a manifestation of mental illness.   We now know that, while stress can contribute to flare-ups, psychiatric conditions do not cause the disease.  Recent research suggests that, in people with eczema, there is a malfunction of the immune system, affecting the outer layer of skin.  This outer layer of skin normally protects the layers beneath and prevents them from drying out.  In the eczema sufferer, however, inflammation producing cells in this outer layer become active, releasing chemicals causing symptoms of a flare-up.  And though it does not completely answer the question “what causes eczema?”, there is great promise in the discovery that eczema is largely hereditary.  In families where allergies and asthma are prevalent, there is a high incidence of eczema.  Researchers continue to study this genetic link which may lead us to both the cause and the cure.

What really causes Eczema?

Newly diagnosed patients continue to ask the question “what causes eczema?”  And though we don’t yet have a cure, significant progress has been made in control of flare-ups and relief from symptoms.  Doctors now work with sufferers to help them identify triggers and form a plan to avoid or limit them.  Daily skin care with creams and lotions help to retain moisture, prevent episodes, reduce compulsive itching, and aid in healing of affected areas. Oral medications can be used when necessary to reduce inflammation and itching.  Relief from symptoms is the thread eczema sufferers hold onto until a cause and cure are found.