What it is
Part 2: The Itch
First let me apologize for our absence in last month’s blog. Since I am still new to the blogging world and working with our website, I made a mistake in the uploading process and the blog for January was never actually posted. I thought it was, but with my brother’s awareness we were able to find the problem and fix it. I apologize again for the confusion, but now there are two new blogs for you to read this month!
To follow up with the previous blog, I wanted to take the time with this one to explain what an itch is, what your immune response is, why it is important, and what it means in regards to eczema. This will help to evolve the explanation of eczema beyond just something that makes your skin red and irritated to a sincere understanding of the process taking place on your skin. This will lead to you being able to have more control over your ailment.
If you recall the last blog, I used the concept of a brick and mortar model to describe the function and make up of your skin. I would like you to keep this model in mind, and even refresh your mental image of the makeup of your skin, so we can move onto what is happening when a foreign body is present. It is within this process where those with eczema, like my brother, myself, and our readers, find discomfort. It is within this process where our bodies do not function the way others with normal skin do.
Image your keratinized skin cells on the outermost surface, and a couple layers underneath, as a strong wall of bricks. These bricks are held together with a cement made up of a matrix of lipid bilayers, which helps to seal the cracks between these bricks and provide a complete and impenetrable barrier. For various reasons, even those of normal skin types, this cement can be removed either mechanically with force or outside chemicals, or it simply isn’t made properly, which is thought to be one of the reasons folks with eczema have problems.
Regardless of its source of removal, when the cement is gone, this allows a free space for a foreign body to move to. These foreign bodies can be microorganisms, allergens, or any number of substances from chemicals like detergent or soap to the lotion you use. For many, especially those with non-eczematous skin, these foreign bodies are not a problem. The human body has natural processes to deal with this occasion without serious consequences.
Think about any time you ever wrote on your skin, even in permanent marker. While you could physically scrub the marker off, using mechanical force to remove the ink, if you wait long enough, over the course of a few days, the ink will disappear. This is because your body sheds it skin. It does this normally in a manner that is always replacing old ‘bricks’ with new ones. It also does this as a defense mechanism. If your skin has a substance on it that isn’t supposed to be there, it can shed that skin to remove the substance from your body.
Another natural process is to create an itch. When your body is telling you there is an itch somewhere on your skin, it is trying to get you to scratch off forcibly whatever foreign body is there. Think about the mosquito bite or bugs crawling on your skin. Your body wants to get rid of the mosquito so it can’t steal any more of your blood and creates an itch so you will swat the bug away. This might not always be the right action, for some foreign bodies take advantage of this fact, like poison oak oil, and want you to scratch to spread the ailment. In regards to eczema, scratching can make it worse for your body is telling you that you have an itch, in the hopes that you scratch away the foreign body but since your skin is compromised, the scratching and itching often makes it worse.
Another natural response to foreign bodies is inflammation, redness, and swelling. Swelling isn’t the most common symptom for those with eczema, but inflammation and redness definitely is, which often if left untreated, can lead to severely cracked skin and scabs. As the skin sheds, it can become inflamed, which is uncomfortable for the host, but necessary for your body to process foreign bodies. This allows the effector cells and healing cells of your immune system to enter the tissue more freely and engage in the healing process. All in all, the processes your body uses to manage the interaction with the outside world is appropriate. We need these defense mechanisms to remain in good hygiene.
These processes have triggers which begin the cascade of events that lead to the rapid replacing of skin. For all of us, there are certain triggers that will cause reaction no matter who you are. For those with eczema, these triggers are much broader in terms of the substances you interact with every day. What causes problems for us does not trigger those with normal skin to have the same reaction.
The biggest problem for those with eczema, and what is largely still a grey area as to why it occurs, is turning these mechanisms off or reversing them. For reasons not fully understood, our bodies have a hard time managing this immune response within our skin. It is why those with eczema have problems. In response to foreign bodies our bodies do what any other body would, create an immune response, but we for some reason have a hard time deactivating them when the time is appropriate and returning to normal. This is the reason steroids are often used in immune deficiencies, for the medicine calms your defense mechanisms like your inflammatory response in a hope things return back to normal.
Why those with eczema have a hard time returning back to a normal state is not readily understood. We will get into treatments and causes in later blogs but this is often why experts bring up what detergents, lotions, or soaps you use. This is why the cloth you wear, the shaving cream and other chemicals you interact with are thought to matter. While there isn’t a clear and direct cause discovered yet, there is correlations in many substances that interact with the body every day.
A major point to take away from this is that even though we do not fully understand what eczema is or why it is caused, we do know there is value in preventative care. If you know what your triggers are, or at least have an idea, you can prevent these substances from ever interacting with your skin. This is why it’s important for us with eczema to be mindful of the clothes we wear, the lotions we us, the shaving cream and so forth. We have more triggers then those with health skin. This is why preventative healthcare is so important, rather than reactive. Instead of waiting for the immune response to occur and dealing with the side effects, eczema, you should be active in preventing the response in the first place.
I hope these blogs are helping to paint a clear picture in your mind. Next month’s blog I will begin to get into the treatments and believed causes of eczema, the previously mentioned grey area. Once again please feel free to reach out to us here at Smiling Panda, whether that be for a free shirt, questions on products or the blogs, or just general inquiries about anything you would like to ask about. I hope your month goes well!
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