Eczema and dermatitis are used as virtually interchangeable terms and generally mean inflammation of the skin. The main symptoms are itching and redness, accompanied by small blisters which often weep and form a crust. Eczema can take the form of small red patches on the limbs, or it can afflict large areas of the body. Although it is not usually a ‘serious’ disease, nor a contagious one, it can be severe, uncomfortable and unsightly, causing the sufferer to become exceptionally self-conscious. If you think you have eczema, see your doctor – although it is often hard to define the cause of eczema or to cure it completely, there are a number of treatments available to control it.
You can help combat the dryness, itching and flaking by preserving the moisture content of your skin. Avoid harsh or highly perfumed soaps or bath additives; instead, try using the emollient (moisturising) soaps, creams and specially made bath oils listed below, and when bathing use warm water instead of hot. These emollient products can be helpful when the skin becomes generally dry – often one of the minor complaints of pregnancy. Moisturising bath oils can make the surface of the bath slippery, so do be careful getting in and out.
Dry skin conditions can be a problem in childhood. About one child in ten suffers from infantile or atopic eczema. The symptoms are similar to those described above, but may look worse as a result of the child’s scratching. Consult your doctor for treatment and advice. At home, keep the child’s skin away from direct contact with wool or other rough fabrics – choose soft, pure cotton instead. Keep the child’s fingernails short and use only gentle cleansing products suitable for infants.
Another form of skin complaint is known as contact dermatitis. This has similar symptoms to eczema but is specifically caused by contact with substances to which your skin is sensitive – household detergents or costume jewellery, for example. Protect your hands when using household cleansing fluids or chemicals, etc., and avoid contact with metals, dyes or even washing powders which may cause you problems. If you’re not sure of the cause, consult your doctor, who may choose to carry out allergy tests. A mild hydrocortisone cream will ease discomfort by reducing inflammation and calming irritated skin.
Psoriasis can vary in severity from being a mild nuisance to, rarely, being so severe that the sufferer has to be admitted to hospital. With psoriasis, the skin cells grow much faster than usual. The skin cells divide and shed, which they normally do in any case , but in just three to four days instead of the normal 25-28.
The precise cause isn’t clear. What is known is that psoriasis can be triggered by stress, some drugs (beta-blockers given for high blood pressure, for example) and even an infection with a virus, such as German measles. Raised red patches with thick, silvery white scales appear on the skin, usually on the knees, elbows and scalp. On the scalp it’s most noticeable as a thick white encrustation around the hairline and ears.
Psoriasis seems to be linked to heredity and can appear at any age, though it most commonly attacks those in their teens or twenties, affecting men and women equally. It can be a difficult condition to treat and unfortunately there’s no long-term cure. Outbreaks tend to come and go – frequency and extent vary between individuals and cannot be predicted accurately.
Although psoriasis is not often harmful to the general The condition normally improves in the summer and gets worse again in the winter, but patches will sometimes clear up completely for years. On a day to day basis, emollient baths and creams (E45 for example) rubbed into the scaly patches can help to soothe the itching and flaking. Yoga, meditation and methods of relaxation – including holidays, especially in the sun, which is extremely beneficial for psoriasis – can all bring relief and, by encouraging a calmer outlook, may help prevent further flare-ups.
Sufferers can also benefit from eating more fish, especially oily fish like mackerel and herring. It’s been suggested that one of the unsaturated fats in fish oils, EPA, is able to replace, within the body, another unsaturated fat, arachi-donic acid. It is the metabolism – the body’s usage – of this last acid which seems to be upset in someone who suffers from psoriasis .
But despite all these possible remedies, active outbreaks should always be seen by a doctor. If the psoriasis is widespread or persistent, specialised hospital treatments will be recommended.
Graphites, Rhus. Tox., Sul-phur, Nelsons Graphites Cream (for dermatitis)
Nelsons Calendula Cream (for sore and rough skin), Nelsons Evening Primrose Cream