Hello everybody! I wanted to start this month’s blog by wishing everyone a belated Happy Holidays and by welcoming all to 2018. I hope you got in some good time with your family, friends, and loved ones, and found plenty of reasons to smile and find joy. Of all the things in this world of ours that are seen as rough or troublesome, there are plenty of beautiful things to keep in mind. I believe every once in a while it is good for us to be reminded of that fact.
As far as the contents of this blog, and several of the blogs following in the coming months, I want to do my best to explain in layman’s terms exactly what eczema is, how it can be triggered, and how it can be treated. I hope that by doing so this will provide our readers, and any others that may come upon this, a clear description of the ailment that they are stuck with. Subsequently, I hope this description gives those who read it some sort of peace of mind that may come with that understanding.
Knowledge is power. I whole heartedly believe this. The tough part with the world and internet today is, there are massive amounts of knowledge and information out there, for better or for worse. The difficulty comes with sifting through that information, finding items that are applicable to your search, and verifying it’s a legitimate source. Then, even if it is a legitimate source for whatever you are searching for, it may be so hard to understand or even read, the true nature of its contents is never really discovered.
In terms of the individual, the body, and overall health, this access to information means the more one knows about their ailment, the more power to cause change they have and the more ability they have to manage its side effects. This means they have more control over their life and their body. The problem can be translating this information, whether it’s from a nurse, doctor, healthcare professional, or an internet article, and mentally constructing it into a meaningful form so the individual can use it.
For many people who do not work in healthcare, and even some that do, this available information is overwhelming. It may even seem like a second language to some, with concepts and words too complex or hard to intake. It’s one thing to listen or read something, it’s a whole different concept to take in what you read or heard, and have a complete mental image and thorough understanding of what you ingested.
I find that the research available, descriptions, medical jargon, and even the medical professionals tasked with conveying what an ailment actually is, can miss the mark more often then not. At the worst the individual has no idea what is being conveyed to them, in the least the person misunderstands or lacks confidence to ask additional questions or continue the learning process. Due to this, many people, like a lot of us do when we speak to our car mechanic, give up trying to understand what is going on within their body and leave it in the hands of others to make the right choices.
Is that the best path for your body?
This is understandable, yet discouraging, for I believe self-empowerment is the most important part of an individual’s positive and progressive care. So, in attempt to help those who may be suffering with eczema, yet not fully aware of what is actually going on or what their body is going through, I will spend this blog by doing my best to explain what is going on with your skin.
The first concept to understand is what your skin actually is and what it does for you. Although many think of skin as the place or part of your body where we feel stimulation, touch, warmth, and sensation, a different perspective on your skin’s function is defensive. Your skin literally covers all the other bits and parts of your body. Your muscles, glands, organs, nervous system, and skeleton need a covering, a covering that separates them from the world of changing air, bacteria, temperature shifts, toxins, or bird poop.
Your skin is the key part of separating you from everything else. To many who read this, they might be saying, ‘Well of course, Chris I already knew it was a barrier.’ I would agree, some of this should seem like and is common knowledge. However I would also say that though it may seem obvious, there is another step in this thought process that I believe most people inherently know, but aren’t visualizing or thinking through.
There are many descriptions for what eczema actually is and a lot of information on its disease classification. This was a learning process for me as well, for much of the information just seems like noise, undistinguished and unhelpful. For me, the first distinction to make was the word eczema actually applies to a group of conditions that lead to itchiness, redness, and inflammation of the skin.
It isn’t so much of a diagnosis on a specific problem as it is a descriptive word in regards to a certain type of integument diseases. Like pneumonia that can be caused by different sources, pneumonia is the symptom, not the disease. Eczema has as many as eight different subcategories, each having their own disease process and set of causes.
The fact is the different types of eczema, and other skin issues, all boil down to the same problem. To explain this problem, many examples, sites, or sources use a brick and cement model to provide a mental image. The bricks are the keratinized cells of your outer most skin layer and the cement is the lipid substance that holds them together. This concept is credited to have been first dawned by Dr. Peter M. Elias, from the University of California, San Francisco. I believe it to be perfectly suited for our purposes.
First imagine your outer most layer of skin, what is called the Stratum corneum, as if it were made of bricks, tiny, microscopic bricks, and these bricks together make an impassable barrier. They must be held together by something and this something is the cement. While the bricks are the bulk of the material for this barrier, the cement is a crucial portion of structure.
It seals the cracks, it provides integrity and stability, just like a brick building. The cement of your skin is a matrix of lipid bilayers with a few main purposes. It helps to trap and retain water so it doesn’t leave the body and escape through the outer most layer of skin, it works to retain natural moisturizes, and prevents the entrance of foreign bodies, both biological and chemical.
The main idea behind eczema is those suffering from it have a deficiency in the production or retention of this cement. When the cement disappears, this flexible matrix of lipids, it allows cracks between the bricks, between your cells. The cause of this deficiency is hard to pin down, and we will discuss possible causes in our coming blogs, but essentially this cement is lacking for one of two reasons. The first being the individual’s body just simply doesn’t produce it like other people with healthy skin.
The second reason this matrix can be lost is by physical removal. The clothes worn, chemicals introduced, and temperature changes can remove this matrix from your skin, leaving the skin vulnerable. When the skin is then vulnerable and irritants set in, skin breaks down, rashes start, and itchiness begins. This is why the clothes you wear, the lotion you use, the detergent you wash with or even the soap in your shower all play a role in the health of your skin.
I hope this helps to describe why the substances you interact with everyday are in fact very important to preventing eczema breakouts. If your skin is already having problems keeping an impermeable seal, introducing substances that are known irritants make it much harder to manage the ailment. While this all might seem like a lot of words, I hope the concepts are simple enough to follow. I will include the articles I found online I felt were the most helpful and well written. I would encourage all those that read about this to expand your learning. If a word is unfamiliar, look it up. If a concept is foreign, read more about it. The more involved and aware you are in regards to your care the better it will be.
A general rule I use when looking for information is to stay away from .com website, unless you know it is heavily vetted and reviewed. Websites with .net or .org generally provide solid information due to their verification processes. No matter what you read, it should not be consumed without your critical thinking or some type of internal reflection. Digest it, think about it, and see if what you are reading is actually applicable to you.
I am also leaving my personal email, so that if anyone has any questions, concerns, need some advice, or a possible free shirt, please reach out. If you feel there is something I missed, something I misrepresented, or you want clarification on anything, please reach out. We at Smiling Panda would love to know more about our customer base.
Helpful articles or links for describing eczema:
Feel free to reach out!