Atopic eczema is an inflammatory skin condition that presents with a poorly defined itchy, red rash usually found in body creases, such as on the flexural surfaces of the elbows and knees. It is an extremely common skin complaint that affects up to 20 per cent of children.1 It can persist into adult life, affecting 2-10 per cent of the adult population. One study report states that approximately 5.7 million people in England have been diagnosed with eczema at one point during their lives.2
The precise aetiology of eczema is unknown, but interplay between genetic predisposition and environment is widely thought to contribute. Eczema and other atopic conditions (e.g. asthma and hayfever) often run in families. The 'hygiene hypothesis' suggests that children who grow up in very clean environments are more likely to develop atopic conditions, as their immune systems are less stimulated by exogenous agents during their development.