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Eczema-symptoms, causes and coping:my husband's experience

Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema) on the arms.

Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema) on the arms.


Dry, scaly skin, awful red blemishes, reddish welts and a distinctive odor. Extreme discomfort, with persistent scratching. These symptoms characterize eczema, a discomfiting and baffling skin condition.

Eczema, medically defined as Atopic Dermatitis, is a condition which defines an inflammation or irritation of the skin. Eczema, usually inherited, brings with it a tendency to develop other allergic conditions and affects about 20% of infants. While some manage to outgrow their symptoms after childhood, many experience eczema throughout their lives.


My husband's tussle with eczema

My husband, Kok Kiang, has eczema, a dubious inheritance of the medical kind from the male side of his family. His father, uncles and brother all have the condition. His skin is noticeably dry and scaly around his wrists, mirroring that of a snake's. His back often itches,so he uses a back scratcher and he often has red patches that highlight the itchy areas of his body.

When he was younger, the eczema was so bad that he had obvious welts on his hands and cheeks. The itching was unstoppable, and he would often have bloody chasms all over his body, including his arms and feet.

On hot days, he would really need a cold shower as his skin smelt particularly bad, a little like sweaty, smelly feet. My mother was initially a bit taken aback by the slight odor he was emitting.

Thankfully, he outgrew the condition somewhat as he grew older and has very little if any problem with it now. He does not scratch as much, but still has dry, scaly skin.


Battling eczema

Eczema -symptoms and diagnosis

Eczema can be diagnosed by a dermatologist, who will conduct other tests to determine the presence of food allergies and allergic reactions to inhalants and other chemical substances that often accompany the condition. This can be helpful in discerning he likely triggers for eczema.

The condition is common in toddlers and children, who outgrow the sometimes unbearable symptoms later in life.


To have eczema means having to bear with inflamed, itchy skin. The itch usually starts on the face, back of the knees, hands or feet, but can affect other areas as well. My husband sometimes experiences an itchy back and the itch takes time to subside. There is extreme redness in the areas where he scratches. The healed ones, of course, leave multiple scars.

Areas of the body affected by eczema can appear dry or scaly. In people who are fair skinned, an eczema rash can be reddish and later turn brown. If a sufferer has darker skin, eczema can affect pigmentation and cause skin to become lighter or darker. For young infants, the itch can even produce an oozing or a sweaty, smelly odor which appears rather repugnant to some. This usually appears on the face or scalp.

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Causes of eczema

The exact cause of eczema is not known, but it is linked to reactions to substances and chemicals. Possible explanations for what induces eczema have been derived.

Exposure to irritants or inhalants

Ezcema is linked to the immune system’s overt reaction to any irritant or inhalant. These can include soaps, perfumes or paints. The undue response of excessive itchiness results.

A hereditary condition

Eczema can be hereditary, with patients coming from families where there is a history of the condition or other related illness such as asthma and other allergies.

The male side of my husband's family all have eczema. Their skin is snake-like and dry, with patches and flakes sometimes falling off in the shower. Unsurprisingly,he also has asthma, and carries a Ventolin pump with him constantly. I do find skin flakes on his pillow at times, which can be a little worrying.

Interaction with coarse materials and other reaction-producing substances

Contact with reaction-producing substances often induces eczema. Brushing of the skin with coarse materials or substances creates instances of the condition because these materials are itch-causing when they react with the skin.

Kok Kiang has to be careful when selecting the shirts he wears, because some of these cause adverse reactions when they interact with his skin. There was one I chose for him when I did not know that the material would cause him to scratch the entire day at work. He wore it, knowing it would happen, but did not tell me. Needless to say,I was touched by the gesture.

Changes in temperature

Fluctuations in temperature increase the instances of eczema. It is not uncommon to find Kok Kiang scratching when the heat creeps in and he begins to perspire. He does so occasionally when moving from that heat into air-conditioned comfort.


Hormones out of balance

Ezcema can result when the body overproduces certain hormones. Low thyroid function is a possible reason for eczema. In more serious hypothyroidism, the skin receives less than one fourth of the normal blood supply.

Nourishment to the skin is reduced and waste products are not removed completely via the skin. In some cases, it even causes the eczema odor mentioned earlier. Of course, scaling, blemishing,blistering and oozing results.

Digestion and diet

An unhealthy stomach which does not digest food and extract the nutrients suitable for the running of the body can lead to other body mechanisms malfunctioning, including the skin. Allergic reactions to foods and the dysfunction of the intestinal tract also prompts the irritation of the skin.

My husband does have a problem when digesting foods that are not clean, or when he over indulges in a certain foods like spicy noodles and coffee. Handling food in a hygienic manner and a proper balance in nutrients are necessary for the prevention of eczema.

Exposure to toxins

Exposure to toxic substances can cause congestion in the kidney and liver when they are overloaded. The burden of the added toxicity thus falls on the skin.

We come into contact with toxins in three ways, via the air, the food we digest and absorption through the skin. These can cause hypersensitivity in the skin and thus eczema.

A stressful lifestyle

Something that is difficult to avoid in this modern day and age, stress is a leading factor that induces a range of skin conditions including that of eczema.

Stress produces a hormone called Cortisol which destroys friendly bacteria in the intestinal tract. The adrenal glands are also stimulated. A chain reaction is triggered, and at the end of the chain are a whole host of diseases including eczema.


Coping with eczema: suggestions for sufferers

Be wary of the materials used to make your clothes.

When buying clothes, try not to select those that make use of uncomfortable or coarse materials, even if these seem more fashionable. Rough materials are often reaction inducing and will cause the skin to become irritated.

My husband selects his shirts carefully, making sure that they are made of softer cotton, which is more comfortable and will not react untowardly with the skin.

Keep the house very clean.

Keeping the home really sanitary is important in promoting the healing of eczema. A colleague of mine has a daughter who, unfortunately, experiences very bad bouts of it. She had to leave her job just so that she can ensure a thoroughly clean home for her daughter. The 9 year old has rather ugly red welts on her face and shin. The dermatologist advised cleanliness as the solution for the rather itchy problem.

It takes a little bit more effort from me to keep my home dust free and clean, for the fact that I have two little dogs at home. But good hygiene goes a long way in preventing eczema and other health conditions, so it is a step well taken.

Lotions for relief of itching

Lotions are always prescribed to prevent itching and keep the skin moist. These lotions are available over the counter at pharmacies or are otherwise prescribed by a doctor. They contain moisturizing ingredients, hydrocortisone or coal tar, all of which work to relieve itching. To be applied on damp skin, after-shower application is recommended.

Cold compresses can also relieve itching. It is a form of hydrotherapy (treatment with water) that reduces inflammation and itchiness. Soaking a clean, wet cloth in cold water and leaving it on affected areas helps to relieve itchiness.

These remediate the instances of eczema when they occur, but a proper balanced diet,rich in antioxidants to nourish the skin, remains the best way to control eczema.


Watch your diet.

Hence, a diet of fresh foods, preferably raw and balanced in their nutrients helps keep the body healthy and wards off eczema. Malnourishment to the skin results from lack of nutrients and substances.

Consuming whole foods (like whole grain) and fresh juices introduces proper nutrients into the body. Foods high in Vitamin E would definitely nourish the skin, such as vegetable oils, nuts, avocados and seeds. Foods in other antioxidants would doubtless help in the maintenance of good general health.

Rub, do not scratch.

Scratching usually introduces dirt into the skin, so rubbing as opposed to using the nails to scratch is recommended by dermatologists. This reduces the instances of skin breakage and redness. My husband usually reminds me to rub his back rather than scratch it for him for this very reason.

Eczema is an unenviable but bearable condition, if one knows how todeal with it in the right way.


Other Health Hubs by Michelle Liew

Further reading by Nithya Venkat

  • How to Treat Eczema and Staph Skin Ailments
    Eczema is a condition that affects the skin. It can occur on any area of the body - face, near the eyes, eyelids, bend of the elbows, behind the knees, neck and upper chest. Staph skin ailments are caused by bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus. It


Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on September 21, 2012:

Glad she has it under control, Mary! Glad that all of you don't have to deal with this. Terrible! Thanks for coming by!

Mary Hyatt from Florida on September 21, 2012:

Very interesting and informative Hub. Fortunately me or my family have never experienced this, but I have one daughter who has Rosacea, but has it under control.

I voted this Hub Up, and will share and Pin.

Barbara Badder from USA on September 21, 2012:

I've read that taking Zinc works for many people. What are clean foods? I haven't heard of that term before? This was an excellent hub.

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on September 21, 2012:

Sorry to hear about the irritation, Prettynutjob. It's an irritation one can only minimize over time. Hope it works out for you! Thanks for coming by!

Mary from From the land of Chocolate Chips,and all other things sweet. on September 21, 2012:

I still to this very day have my bouts with this extreme uncomfortable irritation. There are many different things that gets my hands looking like this dish soap, bleach, certain shampoos which is why I try to use dye free, perfume free. Even raw potatoes does this to my hands, great hub voted up, useful and more.

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on September 21, 2012:

Oh dear. This skin condition sounds more common than I thought it was! Thanks for sharing, Janine. hope that your hub will win big on the battle with it this season! thanks for sharing!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on September 21, 2012:

Skin conditions of any kind can be really debilitating, Sasha. I am sure the kids will outgrow it, from what you are describing. Yes, my husbands was bad. Thankfully, it's better now! Thanks for coming by!

Janine Huldie from New York, New York on September 21, 2012:

Michelle, my husband has his hands break out pretty badly at the first sign of cold weather in the wintertime here. He has been told it a type of Eczema caused by the severe weather. My younger daughter, Lily, also is very sensitive and as a small baby had very dry skin patches, which were diagnosed as Eczema, she was even given prescription creme to combat it. Now, she has outgrown that, but still very sensitive. Thanks for sharing and sorry to hear about your husband's bout with it. Have voted, shared and tweeted too!

Aloe Kim on September 21, 2012:

Wonderful hub Michelle! My children both had eczema as newborns but outgrew it. Awful though! When my little girl was 2 months 80% of her face was just one big rash... No amount of lotions worked. I on the other hand have a form called Seborrheic... so not fun. But I've got it mostly under control, at least in areas that are noticeable.

Although after reading about what your husband had to go through I am going to count myself lucky. I hope it never gets that bad for him again!

Voting this up and sharing!!

Michelle Liew (author) from Singapore on September 21, 2012:

Eczema is a skin condition that causes a lot of discomfort. What are its causes, symptoms and how do we cope with it?

Dave Rogers from New York on June 27, 2012:

eczemas are a pain, my wife had been getting them ever since she got to the US, and we been to a derm and herbalist to no avail. atralin helps a bit but it should not be a prolong use. checked online for a solution but got all same answers. i think its the environment which can be a pain to work with because we live in ny the air here is pretty bad compare to other areas. much of the treatments for ecxema contains steroids which are great for inflamation but that's until the body is used to it or builds a tolerance towards it. really hate ecxema... nice post and very informative, thanks

Michelle on May 29, 2012:

Yes, indeed.Information is meant to educate and help. So glad for your comment! Thanks so much!

mwilliams66 from Left Coast, USA on May 29, 2012:

I remember a girl I went to school with when I was young. We lived in Australia so swimming was a required class. This girl suffered terribly from eczema. Not only from the pain and itch, but from the bullying she received from the children. She was not able to swim because of the severity of her condition and this seemed to provide more fodder for the snide remarks the children hurled at her.

I am so grateful that we now live at a time when so much information is out there to help those who suffer from these ailments. A little information can go a long way to eradicate not only the ailment, but the behavior that others employ

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