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What is Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis?

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According to Singapore General Hospital, 21% or one in five people in Singapore have eczema.

What is Eczema and what causes it? Is there a cure for Eczema? If not, what can we do to control and manage it? To answer these, the first step is to understand what eczema is all about.

Eczema is derived from the Greek word, Ekzema or Ekzein, meaning to break out, or boil over. It is an itchy, red inflamed rash on the skin that causes the patient to scratch persistently and viciously. It is one of the most common causes of dry, sensitive skin and it can be present in any age group, and affects both sexes equally.

Skin Allergy: Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis

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Studies and research around the world indicates an increasing prevalence of eczema or atopic dermatitis in industrialised countries over the last 20 years.

In Singapore, eczema affects nearly 21 per cent of our population or one in five people. Though it is not life-threatening, eczema causes embarrassment for the patients when they begin to scratch uncontrollably in public and when people stare at their raw oozing skin.

Increasing Prevalence of Atopic Dermatitis

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Eczema or atopic dermatitis is commonly present in infants and children, and while most children grow out of it at a later age, some do not. There are also people who actually develop eczema symptoms in adulthood or much later in life.

Even though eczema or atopic dermatitis doesn’t threaten the lives of adults and children who are diagnosed of this condition, it can cause many frustrations and even sleeplessness, which in turn, affects their work and social life, and studies in school.

Eczema or Atopic Dermatitis Flare Ups

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Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is due to a hypersensitivity reaction in the skin, which leads to long-term swelling and redness of the skin. People with atopic dermatitis may lack certain proteins in the skin, which leads to greater sensitivity. Recent studies also suggest that the majority of patients who suffer from eczema have a protein mutation in their skin known as filaggrin which results in the weakening of the skin’s natural protective barrier.

What Causes Eczema Flare Ups?

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Eczema symptoms can come and go. At times, these symptoms can be more severe, or the rash and itching can completely disappear for long periods and return suddenly. When the symptoms suddenly reappear or become worse, it is call a ‘flare up’. There are numerous factors that can trigger ‘flare ups’ of eczema.

For instance, ‘flare ups’ can happen when your skin comes in contact with irritants such as soap, detergent, abrasive clothing (e.g. wool and synthetic fibres), perfume, carpet fibre, or even dust, etc. Overheating, excessive perspiring and even low humidity can also cause a ‘flare up’.