It is estimated that as many as a third of all Americans suffer atopic dermatitis, or eczema, with most sufferers living in dry areas or urban centers. The chronic skin condition doesn’t often outlast childhood, but it is found in adults from time to time. Eczema is caused by an allergic reaction to something in the environment. The precise cause of this reaction is unclear, but there is a genetic component to susceptibility to dermatitis reactions. Stress is sometimes cited as a factor, but while it makes the condition worse, there is no indication that it causes eczema. Other triggers include certain foods, such as nuts and dairy products. People with eczema will have dry or scaly patches on the skin that itch and may seep fluid. In infants, these patches are often on the scalp or the cheeks, in older children and adults, they are found on the neck, wrist, or ankles, or inside the elbows or knees. Eczema in infants can be a particular problem because the painful itching can prevent the child from sleeping.
There is no cure for eczema, but there are treatments that can alleviate the symptoms—especially important for the sleepless children. One study is being undertaken to determine if silk clothing can help fight the itching. Silk is renowned for its comfort overall, and the researchers are hoping that the famous smoothness and softness of silk means that it can be comfortably worn by infants and others with especially sensitive skin. The silk garments are being tested on children in England, and are intended to supplement the topical steroids and other treatments currently used to alleviate the discomfort caused by eczema. It is hoped that the anti-microbial properties of silk will fight the condition directly rather than merely dulling the effects
Eczema isn’t all bad news, however, recent research suggests that kids with eczema are less likely to develop certain form of cancer when they get older. Eczema is caused by an overactive immune response, however, this response comes in handy when it comes to other diseases of the skin, such as skin cancer. The scaling and flaking affects cancer cells as well as ordinary skin cells, and so eczema means reduced tumor formation.