Today’s columnist, GP Mary Wren: Prevention better than cure

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Recently I went to a really useful evening where GPs could learn about latest research and guidelines in the treatment of skin conditions. Some interesting information has come out regarding eczema.

Eczema is a skin condition where the skin becomes dry, scaly, red and itchy. In fact the word eczema comes from the Greek word “ekzein” which means “to boil.”

We are designed with skin that has a thin outer layer, an elastic middle layer and then fat underneath.

Each layer contains skin cells, water and fats and these help to provide a strong, effective barrier to protect against infection and irritation.

In eczema the skin may not have as much fat and oils and may not retain water so well. This means the protection is not as good.

Gaps can form between the skin cells because they are not so pumped up with water – a bit like gaps between bricks in a wall. Soaps and shower gels for example, can then remove more oil resulting in the skin easily becoming irritated and cracked.

Many of our products today have chemicals in which can irritate even normal skin but in eczema the irritation can be worse

It seems that it may be possible to prevent eczema developing in babies, from families where there is a strong eczema history. It seems that using emollients (medically approved moisturisers) daily from birth, prevents around 40 per cent of children developing eczema. The moisturisers keep the protective skin wall intact.

The key is to use them regularly as a prevention rather than waiting for the eczema to develop.

It seems to be the same in those who have eczema, not using “normal” products which strip the skin, but instead using emollients to wash in and then moisturise with. This then reduces flare-ups.

In the UK, one in five children and one in 12adults has eczema, so it is a common problem.

It is exciting to think there is a simple way of preventing cases. The daily work and effort of moisturising is worth it.

It is the same with many medical conditions; reducing sugar now to prevent diabetes or cutting out smoking to prevent lung cancers.

The hard work of developing good habits soon becomes easier and then the new thing is just part of our normal routine. So let’s look after our bodies the best we can. Prevention really is better than cure.