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Myths, facts about Eczema

Written by GBENGA ADENIJI  - PUNCH, Nigeria 

A person with eczema.Miss Dolapo Ojo noticed reddish blisters on her skin one early morning. The blisters were at the lower region of the left side of her face. Ojo stated that she could not explain how the skin disease got to her face.
Ojo said her first reaction was to use a medicated soap and hot water to wash the blisters. But the situation worsened.

She added that while she was trying to treat the infection unsuccessfully, a friend of hers advised her to use a sulphur-kerosene solution to treat it.
According to her, she was at that point ready to heed any advice on how to cure it.
She said, ‘‘I was at the point of embarrassment and just needed help. I used the solution but the situation persisted until I consulted a dermatologist who offered better treatments.’’
Ojo is lucky when compared with that of Sheriff Atobatele who said his skin burnt after he had used sulphur and kerosene.

Atobatele stated that he applied the mixture on the affected part and left it overnight as directed only to wake up with a peeled skin the following day.
‘‘I was surprised to see that the layer of my skin had peeled off, causing me a sharp pain at the slightest touch, ’’ he said.
This form of sulphur-kerosene treatment is not peculiar to Ojo and Atobatele. In fact, many people with the skin disease are comfortable with the use of the solution commonly believed to cure eczema.

The Longman Dictionary described sulphur as ‘‘a common light yellow chemical substance that burns with a very strong unpleasant smell, and is used in drugs, explosives and industry.’’
A public health physician, Prof. Tanimola Akande, of the University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, said the use of sulphur has not been tested and proven medically.
According to him, such preparation has not been put to clinical drug trials and cannot be said to be appropriate for the treatment of eczema.
Akande said, ‘‘Sulphur and kerosene as used by people cannot cure eczema. This type of preparation has not been showed through clinical drug trials to be useful. Most people apply this to the affected part with the thinking that they can have relief. The untrained can readily take eczema for fungal skin infection. The use of this combination to treat eczema should be discouraged. People should be encouraged to see their doctors or better still dermatologists who are skin specialists for proper treatment.’’

Describing eczema as a chronic skin disease with skin inflammation, usually with changes in skin colour in form of redness in light-skinned people, the don added that this type of skin disease is often accompanied with skin itching.
According to him, eczema tends to come on and off for those affected and the skin may also swell, moreso with itching.
He added, ‘‘Everybody can be prone to eczema particularly children and those who have allergies. Asthmatics can be prone to eczema as well. The real cause is unknown and there are different types. Eczema is not contagious unlike fungal skin infections which also present as chronic skin infection. It is also believed that it can be commoner among members of same families.’’

Noting that eczema cannot be said to be curable it controllable, Akande said the treatment is mainly aimed at reducing the effect of the symptoms and importantly avoiding things that triggers it if they have been identified with the affected individual.
Akande stated, ‘‘Cases can improve over time particularly as a child grows up. Eczema skin rash may become infected and would require antibiotics, otherwise topical skin preparations containing steroids are often used to treat symptoms.’’

The National Eczema Society in the UK also reiterated Akande’s position that children are particularly prone to eczema. The society, however, added a new twist, by urging parents to clean rather than bath their babies daily to avoid the risk of eczema.
It argued that though most parents prefer evening bath time for their baby, such practice could increase the risk of the children developing eczema.
According to the society, the increase in the water level used in bathing the children can increase the number of them suffering from eczema.
It added that too much water and ‘many bubble baths dry out skin.’
The research carried out by the society showed that in 1940s, only four per cent of babies were diagnosed with eczema compared to 25 per cent of babies in 2010.
Besides, there was a 41 per cent rise between 2001 and 2005 alone. The Chief Executive of the society, Margaret Cox, believed that the reason for the development was caused by daily bathing of the children.

Cox in the research stated, ‘‘People don’t realise bathing in just simple water can dry out the skin and I don’t think many people appreciate how damaging soap can be.
“We should take bathing back to cleaning rather than seeing it as some great experience, as I don’t think we are doing our skin any good. Very small babies do not get very dirty other than around their mouths and in the nappy area, so top and tailing with a cloth and warm water every day plus a couple of baths a week should be adequate. Older children should be bathed when they are dirty.”
In past studies, skin experts concluded that daily bathing clears essential oils from the skin’s layer, making it dry and exposing ‘babies skin to the risk of allergy and developing eczema.’
Online sources credited to dermatologists have noted that eczema otherwise called dermatitis is a general term describing inflammation of the skin.

Some of the common types, according to the sources, include contact dermatitis caused by contact with a certain substance. There is also seborrheic dermatitis which is a ‘scaly patches and red skin, mainly on the scalp.’ There is also dermatitis herpetiformis described as ‘a chronic, very itchy skin rash made up of bumps and blisters.’
In a study centred on eczema, the lead author and associate professor in the Department of Dermatology at the University of Rochester Medical Centre, Lisa Beck, said, “Over the past five years, disruption of the skin barrier has become a central hypothesis to explain the development of eczema.’’

Beck further said that findings of the study challenge the belief that the top layer of the skin or stratum corneum is the sole barrier structure.
The dermatologist added that the study suggested that both the stratum corneum and tight junctions need to be defective to jumpstart the disease.

Besides, the NES in response to an enquiry from SUNDAY PUNCH on whether eczema can affect an individual from childhood to adulthood, said it could affect someone all their life.
Speaking through Cox, it noted, ‘‘In the UK at least approximately two thirds of children who have atopic eczema find that the eczema resolves by puberty, but they will always have sensitive skin. We don’t know if the two thirds rule applies elsewhere as we are not aware of any relevant research data, but it is likely to. There is no way to know who will or won’t retain the condition into adulthood but generally speaking those who have it most severely are the ones who retain it.’’
She further said while the vast majority of eczema starts in early childhood, some people develop it for the first time as adults and some people who had it as children, and whose eczema clears up find that it comes back after several years. 

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