20 Apr
2009

Atopic eczema is mainly a disease of childhood although there are rare instances of it first appearing in adult life. About three-quarters of children affected develop the disease before they are a year old, and most in the first six months of life. The disease tends to come and go thereafter, and usually disappears by the age of 15. Because this type of eczema is so common in the children of atopic parents, and because it is usually followed (or accompanied) by hay-fever or asthma, it is considered to be an allergic disease. However, there is no clear evidence that IgE antibodies actually play a role in producing atopic eczema, and it is not obvious how they might produce the characteristic symptoms.

If IgE is at the root of eczema, then the question of how the allergens reach the skin arises. This is a matter of great medical controversy, but there is growing evidence that what goes into the mouth can produce a reaction in the skin, and that food is an important factor. Allergens which are inhaled and absorbed into the bloodstream may also play a part, and airborne allergens that land on the skin could contribute to the problem, along with contactants in clothing, creams and cosmetics.

However, allergens are often only part of the problem. General irritants, such as detergents, are also thought to be important, and these can bring on eczema in the sensitive individual.

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