Atopic eczema is a very common skin condition due to skin inflammation. It may start at any age but the onset is often in childhood. 1 in every 5 children in the UK is affected by eczema at some stage. It may also start later in life in people who did not have AE as a child.
The term ‘atopic’ is used to describe a group of conditions, which include asthma, eczema and hay-fever and food allergy. These conditions are all linked by an increased activity of the allergy side of the body’s immune system. ‘Eczema’ is a term which comes from the Greek word ‘to boil’ and is used to describe red, dry, itchy skin which can sometimes become weeping, blistered, crusted, scaling and thickened.
What causes atopic eczema?
Atopic eczema is a complex condition and a number of factors appear important for its development including patient susceptibility and environmental factors. Patients typically have alterations in their skin barrier, and overly reactive inflammatory and allergy responses. Environmental factors include contact with soaps, detergents and any other chemicals applied to the skin, exposure to allergens, and infection with certain bacteria and viruses. A tendency to atopic conditions often runs in families (see below) and is part of your genes. An alteration in a gene that is important in maintaining a healthy skin barrier has been closely linked to the development of eczema. This makes the skin of patients with eczema much more susceptible to infection and allows irritating substances/particles to enter the skin, causing itching and inflammation. AE cannot be caught from somebody else.
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