It affects the skin, causing a red, itchy, flaky rash that can occur on any part of the body, but in children, it commonly appears on the face, arms and legs. The essential issue in eczema skin is that the very outer layer called the stratum corneum of the epidermis and often referred to as the “skin barrier”, doesn’t function properly. In healthy skin it forms a tightly sealed barrier, keeping moisture in, and keeping irritants out. In eczema skin this barrier is not tightly sealed, in fact, it is porous, and this lets irritants into the skin, where they provoke a reaction from the “over-sensitive” immune system in the skin of eczema sufferers.
Eczema tends to run in families, meaning it has a genetic origin, so if one or both parents have it, there is a good chance your child will be at risk of having it. However, like many conditions, whether it actually develops in an individual depends on the interaction of their body with its environment, meaning not all kids of parents with eczema will develop the condition. It is associated with other conditions, namely hayfever and asthma, all of which are referred to as “atopic” conditions. Kids with eczema are also more likely to have food allergies, and current research suggests that this may actually be because of the defective skin barrier. Eczema may first appear at any age, but typically from 3-4 months old onwards; some kids will “grow out” of the condition as they get older (even before they reach school age), but others will not.
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Issue 32 - Autumn 2019