a special feature from Nancy Samolitis, M.D*.

Regardless of age, our skin takes quite a beating. And believe it or not, there are skin conditions that can afflict any age: young, older, or otherwise! Babies to grandparents are susceptible to the woes of eczema, and we want you to know everything you possibly can about it. Oh, and did we mention…eczema isn’t just something that troubles us during the dry winter months– it’s a year round problem.

When we think of the word ‘eczema’, many images and interpretations come in to play. It is a rash that can affect you as a grandparent, or may affect your grandchild. It is indeed a rash for all ages.

Eczema (a.k.a. dermatitis) is a descriptive medical term for various inflammatory conditions of the skin.  Eczema comes in many forms, from flaky red patches to bumps to more severe open sores.  It is usually dry, itchy, stinging, and generally uncomfortable.  Eczema can affect anyone at any time of his or her life; it has no predilection for age, race, or gender.  Luckily, we have many treatment and preventative options.

Some people are born with genetically eczema-prone skin.  Often, the condition will present in infancy or early childhood with itchy, red, flaky patches that can sometimes spread all over the body.  In a person without eczema, the skin provides a protective barrier that holds moisture in and keeps infections and environmental allergens out.  Someone with eczema prone skin is more likely to have allergic reactions and skin infections due to the substandard barrier protection.

People also can be affected by different types of eczema, even if they are not born with it.  Causes of eczema include dry skin, allergic reactions, and some medical conditions such as hypothyroidism, medications, and stress.  There are many ingredients in skin care products that a person can become allergic to. Allergic reactions can occur even if you have been using the product for years.  Common ingredients are neomycin (found in Neosporin), fragrances, preservatives, and parabens.  Some people are even allergic to latex, rubber products, or metals.  If you develop a new case of eczema that you suspect is due to an allergic reaction, a dermatologist can perform a patch test to determine the cause.  If you know you have sensitive, eczema-prone skin, look for products that are fragrance-free and preservative-free if possible.

Dermatologists usually use a combination of treatments to care for eczema.  Prescription anti-inflammatory creams such as cortisone cream are the first line of therapy.  These creams reduce the inflammation in the skin, helping with symptoms such as redness, swelling, scaling, and blistering.  Antihistamines such as Benadryl and Zyrtec are often used to help with itching.  These therapies should always be combined with a proper moisturizer to help restore the skin barrier.  There are prescription moisturizers that contain ingredients that repair damaged skin.  Popular over-the-counter moisturizers that calm and repair eczema skin include Aveeno, Cerave, and Cetaphil Restoraderm.  Products such as Aquaphor and Aveeno Healing Ointments can protect damaged skin and provide comfort for raw areas.

There is not a “cure” for eczema and it may come and go, but taking care of your skin, using proper skin care products and moisturizers can prevent the rash from recurring as frequently.

*Dr. Nancy Samolitis is a Board Certified dermatologist with specialized training in cosmetic dermatology. In addition to providing care for general medical dermatology, Dr. Samolitis specializes in treatment of aging and sun-damaged skin on the face and body. Dr. Samolitis has lectured nationwide and has authored several peer-reviewed journal articles and textbook chapters. Amongst others, her work has been published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology and Archives of Dermatology. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Dermatology and the American Society of Dermatologic Surgery.