Why has eczema become so common?

According to a recent report, the rates of diagnosed eczema in kids in the UK shot up by a whopping 42 % between 2001 and 2005, and no one really knows why that happened (it’s very likely, by the way, that a similar rise has occurred in North America).

Eczema is that chronic itchy, irritated skin condition that can be due to a host of causes – allergies, sensitivities, unknown factors, other health problems, stress – and which is a member of that group of problems known by the blanket term of atopy, which includes allergies and asthma.

In fact, some experts believe that eczema, which is often seen in young kids, is a pretty strong predictor or precursor to allergies and asthma.

So what are the theories behind this explosion of cases of eczema?

Clearly, many people believe that it’s due to the same factors that lie behind the similar huge rise in allergies and asthma cases in the UK: sensitivities to food, the too-clean environment that most infants are brought up in these days and which then leaves them prone to developing immune reactions when they are exposed to common irritants later in life (if, as an infant, you have never rolled in a dust ball, for example, how is your body to know later in life when you do finally encounter some dust, like when you finally move out of your parents’ home and into your own digs, that dust is really harmless?) other changes in the environment, the increased and more wide-spread use of cleansers and detergents and shampoos  – but as always I favour an explanation that most experts tend to ignore or belittle.

I think we’re seeing so many more cases of eczema these days compared to years ago simply because compared to how their own parents brought them up, current parents fly to the doctor with every skin rash a kid develops and many doctors use “eczema” as a garbage-bag catch-all for any skin rash they can’t identify more clearly in a kid.


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