Atopic eczema is caused by a skin dysfunction in which the skin barrier is unable to be repaired properly when it is damaged. It is a genetic problem, which results in the skin of susceptible people having a lower than optimal content of water and oil . Consequently it becomes dry, scaly and easily irritated.
Since the skin barrier doesn’t operate effectively, allergens are able to penetrate the skin surface and trigger the immune system, making the affected skin red and itchy. Scratching exacerbates the situation and increases the inflammation, and may also allow infection to occur. The infectious organism involved is usually Staphylococcus aureus.
Contributing factors may include:
- Allowing the skin to become dry.
- Inhaling environmental allergens, such as dust mites, grass pollens and pet hair. (Dust mite allergy is common in people with eczema, and even if they are not allergic to dust mites when they initially develop eczema, many sufferers become allergic to them later).
- Contact with substances that irritate the skin, including perfume, and synthetic or woollen fabrics.
- Food allergies don’t cause eczema, but may trigger or aggravate it, especially in children. Foods that are most likely to be involved include dairy products, soy protein, seafood, nuts and seeds, eggs, and wheat. In many cases, the allergies resolve during early childhood.
- Becoming over-heated.
- Abrupt changes in temperature or humidity.
- Stress, which may trigger or aggravate eczema.