Eczema is a chronic, inflammatory skin disorder that appears as blisters, dry scaly skin and rash. The blisters can be large or small and may spread as scratching or rubbing exacerbates the symptoms. Eczema usually occurs on the hands, arms and feet, but may show up anywhere on the body. The University of Maryland Medical Center estimates that about 15 million Americans suffer from eczema. Eczema can come and go and may flare up periodically throughout the course of a lifetime. Understanding the causes of eczema can help prevent future flare ups.
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Eczema can be inherited, making a person's skin less resilient to environmental factors. Eczema can flare up from using highly abrasive soaps, detergents with chemical dyes, synthetic perfumes, deodorants, antiperspirants and lotions. People with sensitive skin may get a flare up from certain types of clothing such as wool, silk, rayon and other synthetics. The New Zealand Dermatological Society suggests that sufferers dilute washing powder as much as possible, wash soap off their hands thoroughly and wear gloves when possible. Using a daily moisturizer without any synthetic additives, such as petroleum jelly, can also help alleviate the symptoms.
Certain foods can also cause eczema to flare up. This can be due to allergies that release histamine into the skin. Certain fruits that contain salicylates may trigger an eczema outbreak. Other foods that may trigger eczema are peanuts, shellfish and dairy. In addition, many foods contain synthetic additives and preservatives that trigger the immune system to react. Dyes, flavor enhancers, food coloring, artificial sweeteners and additives that change the smell of food can all cause eczema to flare up. The University of Maryland Medical Center suggests eating more fresh vegetables, whole grains and essential fatty acids found in cold-water fish and oily nuts. Fish oil and probiotics found in yogurt have also been shown to reduce the number of eczema flare ups.
Infection and the immune system are also linked to eczema. A weakened immune system can allow pathogens to live on the surface of the skin. Bacterial infections such as staphylococci and streptococci can live on the skin and cause eczema outbreaks. Fungus and yeast can also proliferate when the body's natural immune system is compromised. Living in areas with high humidity can increase fungus and yeast on the body. Proper hygiene and anti-fungal creams can help eliminate possible sources of eczema outbreaks. Viral infections such as herpes and warts can also contribute to eczema outbreaks. Other immune system factors include imbalances in white blood cells that create a weakened barrier in protecting the skin.