Eczema is a chronic condition of the skin that can be caused by a number of things, often including occult, or hidden causes. Some of the more common causes are allergens, drying agents (such as rubbing alcohol) or stress. Patients with eczema often also have asthma or another allergic disorder.

The disorder can strike any part of the skin, although the hands, parts of the face, and the knees and elbows are often common.

A typical episode of eczema will start with itching. Often this itching will come in the middle of the night, and often an eczema sufferer will wake up, already virulently scratching themself in their sleep. The pleasure derived from scratching at the skin is hard to explain to someone who does not have eczema. Usually this scratching goes on until the epidermis is removed and the dermis is uncovered. Over the next few days, the dermis dries out and becomes dead white skin. Before it does this, it is rather wet and messy. This is the phase of wet eczema.

Usually after this phase, the skin becomes extremly dry, and will fill up with tiny bubbles of fluid. This at least is entertaining, as popping these bubbles is a little bit like popping bubble wrap, although somewhat messier. This turns the skin back into a sodden form, which quickly dries out, leading back to dry eczema. In dry eczema, the skin often becomes so brittle, it will crack and bleed if the hand so much as changes its position.

After anywhere from 3 days to several weeks, the skin usually manages to heal itself. However, if the underlying cause is not treated, a new episode will break out. Often several episodes are going on on different parts of the body at the same time, leading to some interesting patchwork patterns on the skin.

Eczema is an extremly painful, debilitating condition. While a single minute or hour of having eczema does not cause too much pain, having to live with a condition where parts of the body are constantly itching and oozing gets real wearing real fast. In addition, if the skin is broken for long, a secondary infection often sets in.

There are a few main treatments for eczema

  • Remove the underlying cause: the best way, if you can find out what the underlying cause is. Often even after it is discovered, it is difficult to remove all stress from a sufferers life.
  • Moisturizing or sealing oils or salves. Eucerin is a good choice, although it may have to be slathered on every half hour, and it does not do more then temporarily relieve some of the dryness.
  • Various types of steroids (usually in the form of a cream) will greatly reduce the itching and inflammation. However, as is usual with steroids, this comes at a great price, as the steroids will decrease immune response, which can cause secondary infections to develop; and because they cause the skin to thin and become brittle, which makes it more delicate and easy to break, if an itching episode should come on.

From my own personal experience, which is quite extensive (although thankfully not as extensive as K9's), the only permanent solution to eczema is to adjust my lifestyle. I have come to look on my itching skin as a message that something is going wrong with me. I heed those warnings closely.