Eczema is common, occurring in 15%–20% of infants and young children. For some infants it can be a severe chronic illness with a major impact on the child’s general health and on the family. A minority of children will continue to have eczema as adults.
The exact cause of eczema is not clear, but precipitating or aggravating factors may include food allergens (most commonly, egg) or environmental allergens/irritants, climatic conditions, stress and genetic predisposition.
Management of eczema consists of education; avoidance of triggers and allergens; liberal use of emollients or topical steroids to control inflammation; use of antihistamines to reduce itch; and treatment of infection if present. Treatment with systemic agents may be required in severe cases, but must be supervised by an immunologist.
Urticaria (“hives”) may affect up to a quarter of people at some time in their lives. Acute urticaria is more common in children, while chronic urticaria is more common in adults. Chronic urticaria is not life-threatening, but the associated pruritus and unsightly weals can cause patients much distress and significantly affect their daily lives.
Angioedema coexists with urticaria in about 50% of patients. It typically affects the lips, eyelids, palms, soles and genitalia.
Management of urticaria is through education; avoidance of triggers and allergens (where relevant); use of antihistamines to reduce itch; and short-term use of corticosteroids when antihistamine therapy is ineffective. Referral is indicated for patients with resistant disease.
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