Eczema is a type of skin condition that causes itchy, red, raised areas on human skin. The condition most often affects children, but adults can also get it. No one knows what causes eczema, and there is no cure. While it is not life-threatening, eczema can severely affect the quality of life for both those who have it and their families.
Ava Segur developed eczema shortly after she was born. She is now a teenager. Segur says she used to wear long-sleeved shirts to hide the bumps and rashes. Her mother, Stephanie Segur remembers what it was like when Ava developed the condition.
“We were trying to get that under control, and then all of a sudden, she got these food allergies at the same time, around 18 months old.”
Doctor Donald Leung says there is a link between Ava’s eczema and food allergies.
“Probably a third of patients with eczema develop a food allergy.”
Leung is an allergist and immunologist at National Jewish Health, a research hospital in Denver, Colorado. He says the link is known as atopic march. It is a series of allergic diseases beginning with eczema that progress to allergies and asthma.
Leung says that eczema patients have dry, cracked skin. If children have microscopic amounts of food on their fingers, the particles can enter the body through the skin instead of through the digestive tract. Other environmental allergens such as pollen can enter through the skin as well.
“What we need to do is rebuild the skin barrier.”
Leung says patients with eczema should see a skin specialist to get control of the eczema quickly and to prevent the progression of atopic march. Research shows that a warm, 20-minute bath, followed by use of an ointment, a thick medicinal substance, can help rebuild the skin barrier. The ointment keeps a film of water on the skin and prevents it from evaporating. Doctors call this method the “soak and seal.”
Covering a baby’s hands can prevent them from scratching affected areas. A head cover can further protect the skin.
Eczema is a troublesome skin condition. It can become so itchy that it can interrupt the sleep of both the child and the parents. The disease can affect the entire family, especially if it interferes with a parent or caregiver's ability to work. In addition, there is the emotional effect of not being able to comfort a baby.
Kristen Kline’s infant son has eczema. She says she "can’t even explain the relief that we’ve really gotten from (treatment).”
“He had the cracks in the back of his legs, in his elbows. Those are almost completely healed, and we’ve been doing this treatment for a week.”
Researchers are developing a way to test the skin to identify what weakens its natural barrier. They hope to find a way to repair such weakness before children develop what could become lifelong issues.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Words in This Story
allergy – n. a medical condition that causes someone to become sick after eating, touching, or breathing something that is harmless to most people
bump – n. a swelling of tissue
immunologist – n. a science that deals with the ways in which the body protects itself from diseases and infections
rash – n. an eruption on the body
relief – n. removal or lightening of something oppressive, painful, or distressing
soak – v. to put something in a liquid for a period of time
seal – v. to close tightly or completely to prevent anyone or anything from moving in or out