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  • Skin Asthma, Atopic Dermatitis, Eczema: Are They All The Same?

    Here's what to know about this condition that particularly affects babies and children.
    by Jocelyn Valle .
Skin Asthma, Atopic Dermatitis, Eczema: Are They All The Same?
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  • Editor’s Note: This article is intended for information purposes only. It does not substitute a doctor. It is vital to always consult a medically trained professional for advice that suits your needs best.

    A lot of people interchangeably use the medical terms eczema, atopic dermatitis, and asthma of the skin, or simply skin asthma. That's why there's a belief that they are all one and the same.

    Here's a clarification from the United States National Eczema Association (NEA). For starters, it refers to eczema as the "name for a group of conditions that causes the skin to become itchy, inflamed, or have a rash-like appearance." There are several types of eczema, such as:

    • Atopic dermatitis
    • Contact dermatitis
    • Dyshidrotic eczema
    • Nummular eczema
    • Seborrheic dermatitis
    • Stasis dermatitis

    Atopic dermatitis, the NEA says,  is "part of a group of allergic conditions, known as the 'atopic march,' that includes asthma, hay fever, and food allergies." It explains that if your child has one of these conditions, he or she is most likely to have another atopic condition. Atopic dermatitis is also called skin asthma.

    What is asthma of the skin?

    Skin asthma is explained by Dr. Natasha Balbas in an article she's written for  SmartParenting.com.ph. She says it's "an inflammatory skin condition affecting children in infancy, as early as 3 months of age."

    Dr. Balbas adds that while most recurring cases of skin asthma or atopic dermatitis (AD) resolve by the age of 5, some will persist into  adulthood. There may be periods of exacerbations and remissions lasting well into the patient’s 20s and 30s.

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    This condition, experts point out, is hereditary, non-contagious, and characterized by chronic inflammation of the skin. 

    Signs of skin asthma

    You may suspect your baby to be suffering from skin asthma if you see these symptoms:

    • Dry, scaling skin
    • Severe itching
    • Various types of skin lesions (ranging from mild redness to severe manifestations, such as lichenification)
    • Thickening of the skin (due to repeated rubbing at scratching)
    • Skin appears to be red, flaky, with pinpoint raised spots
    • Spots can sometimes be “weepy,” watery, or wet, and can be very itchy

    Causes of skin asthma

    Dr. Balbas explains that skin asthma occurs when "an environmental trigger causes an allergic reaction in the body." She mentions such examples as certain foods, airborne allergens, and colonization of the bacteria called Staph aureus on the skin.

    She also points out that approximately 80% of atopic dermatitis (AD) or skin asthma cases tend to run in families, which suggests a genetic component. Additionally, she says, "Because environmental triggers play a major role in the recurrence of symptoms, avoiding exposure to such allergens and boosting the body’s immune system are the best methods for preventing AD."

    On the other hand, Dr. Mijaru Malayang-Kimwell, in an interview with SmartParenting.com.ph, differentiates that "unlike skin allergies, which usually occur when exposed to particular allergens, skin asthma can occur with mild or even no exposure to irritants."

    Treatment of skin asthma

    Experts make it clear that there is no cure for eczema, along with atopic dermatitis and skin asthma. But the symptoms can be treated with over-the-counter remedies and prescription medications. That's why their advice is for you to have your child checked by the doctor.

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    Dr. Balbas also suggests to keep your child's immune system strong and avoid exposure to triggers. Ditto for supportive care, though she admits this could be "tedious but highly effective way" to control the symptoms of your child's condition. You can start by following these tips by the doctor:

    • Bathing would be infrequent and should only be done with lukewarm water (not hot).
    • Soap should be used minimally, as they may dry out the skin.
    • If you can find (or make) one, a colloidal oatmeal bath can be extremely soothing.
    • Make sure to moisturize immediately after a bath, using body oils and emollients.
    • Coconut oil and olive oil are cheap and healthy ways to moisturize, without the harmful chemicals of the more common skincare products like lotions.
    • If your child is suffering from severe itching due to asthma of the skin, ensure that his or her fingernails are cut short so as not to damage the skin.
    What other parents are reading

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