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Mon, Sep 24, 2012
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Stop that itch!

DID you know that protease attacks lead to eczema in children? Perhaps this revelation would lead to further questions: what is a protease? How does it affect my child? How do I stop protease attacks?

For many parents, the appearance of eczema on their baby's smooth skin comes as a shock, and leads to a flurry of questions: is it a food allergy, a heat rash or something worse?

However, once the rashes have been diagnosed as eczema, parents can breathe a sigh of relief as eczema can be treated.

In order to understand the mechanics of how eczema occurs - and hence administer the appropriate treatment, it is important to understand the skin barrier, its various facets, and the role of proteases in this skin disease.

The human skin regenerates every two to four weeks, where old skin cells begin dividing in order to produce new skin cells. When the new skin cells begin to mature and move up the skin layers, the older cells are moved to the surface, creating a skin barrier that is designed to protect the body from the environment.

The skin cells near the surface are then broken down by the protease enzyme, and this leads to a shedding of the skin cells. In those with eczema however, there is an increase in skin protease activity, causing the skin barrier to be thinner than that of normal skin, thus exposing the skin to irritants and allergens, which in turn trigger sudden flares of eczema.

It is essential that atopic dermatitis is treated properly when symptoms first appear, usually in the form of skin redness, extreme dryness and constant itch.

In the first phase, the inflammation often focuses around the baby's face, belly and back. Parents should seek medical attention immediately if they notice these signs on their child's skin.

A 2011 study revealed that there is a gap of around nine months between the appearance of the first sign and getting properly diagnosed in Malaysia.

Early diagnosis and proper treatment of atopic dermatitis helps to reduce inflammation, relieves itching, and decreases the intensity and frequency of flare-ups or exacerbations.

During flare-ups, small water blisters may develop on the hands and feet, and the skin becomes moist and itchy. As babies are not able to resist the reflex response of scratching repeatedly, this could lead to secondary bacterial infection of the skin.

It is important that parents manage their child's eczema by making sure that the pH level of their skin is maintained.

Managing the pH level of your child's skin will also go a long way to preventing protease attacks.

Healthy skin has a slight acidic pH of five to six. With eczema, the skin tends to be more alkaline in nature, which enhances protease attacks. The use of certain soaps and bubble baths has been known to raise skin pH to 7.5 and higher. This will then lead to an increase in skin protease activity, resulting in the wearing down of the skin barrier.

One way to manage the pH level of your baby's skin, and prevent eczema, is by using an extra gentle cleanser that is specially formulated to address these trouble areas.

It is important to use an extra gentle cleanser that helps prevent protease attacks, facilitates the repair of a baby's skin, and cleanses the skin, without disturbing the skin's natural moisturising factors.

An ideal cleanser should be an extra gentle cleanser that is formulated with optimal skin pH that stops protease activity, repairs and protects your child's skin, thus strengthening the skin barrier.

Furthermore, a cleanser that contains the foaming agents, sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) and sodium lauryl ethyl sulphate (SLES), which are powerful detergents that are used to create foam, should be avoided. SLS/SLES are well-known skin irritants that can disrupt the protective skin barrier of a child, and for this reason, it is important that babies who are suffering from eczema use non-SLS/SLES cleansers.

Reference: Improving the treatment of atopic eczema through an understanding of gene - environment interactions. Michael J Cork, Darren Robinson, Yiannis Vasilopoulos, Adam Ferguson, Manar Moustafa, Alice Macgowan, Rachid Tazi-Ahnini and Simon J Ward, Biomedical Genetics - Dermatology, Division of Genomic Medicine, The University of Sheffield Medical School, Sheffield. Last accessed 5 September 2012.

This article is courtesy of Hoe Pharmaceuticals Sdn Bhd.

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