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Eczema

WHAT IS IT?

Eczema, what exactly is it?

Eczema is a common skin problem that’s especially prevalent in developed countries such as Singapore.

If you suffer from eczema, you’re not alone — it’s one of the most common skin concerns. In Singapore over 20% of people suffer from it (stated by Singapore Health Magazine). That number is echoed in the UK for children (stated by The National Eczema Society), and in the USA, over 30 million people have eczema (stated by The National Eczema Association). 

The basics of eczema

The history

Persons suffering from eczema can fully appreciate the origin of the term. It comes from the Greek word “ekzema” meaning “eruption” or “to boil out”. These aptly describe the condition’s most common appearance of skin that is dry, cracked, red, and often oozing.

The definition

Eczema is a medical condition in which patches of skin become rough and inflamed with blisters which cause itching and bleeding. It’s a form of dermatitis (inflammation of the skin), and although this term covers a particular group of skin disorders which share similar characteristics, the terms “eczema” and “dermatitis” are used interchangeably to refer to any inflammation of the skin. Another common usage of the term “eczema” is to refer to a specific type of dermatitis called atopic dermatitis.

The behaviour

Skin is made up of three layers — Epidermis, Dermis, Hypodermis — with cells, fats, oils and water in each layer assisting in keeping the skin healthy. Healthy skin is able to protect against infection and damage, regulate the body’s temperature, and stop microorganisms and irritants from entering the body. The fats and oils also help hold water in the skin, keeping the cells hydrated and improving water retention in the body, resulting in healthy, moisturized skin.

Eczema-prone skin does not produce sufficient fats and oils. Thus, its water retention ability is lowered and consequently so is its protective function. The cells are not as swollen and spaces form between them, making it possible for water contained in the deeper layers to evaporate from the skin leaving it drier. At the same time, it also becomes easier for microorganisms and irritants to enter.