Eczema is a chronic skin condition that manifests as patches of skin that are cracked, crusted, red, scaly, itchy, swollen, and/or inflamed. Less common are blisters and bumps. Although there is no cure, there are treatments that help to improve the symptoms and prevent infection.
According to the National Eczema Association, more than 10% of the US population is experiencing some form of eczema, most of which are children. However, more than half of them no longer show symptoms of eczema as they reach adolescence.
The term eczema is usually interchanged with atopic dermatitis yet the latter is just the most common form of the condition. Other forms of eczema include contact dermatitis, seborrheic dermatitis, and stasis dermatitis.
Usually, eczema flares up then subsides. It can go into remission for weeks, months or even years. Sometimes children age out of it altogether. The way to stave off those flares is to know and avoid the triggers. Not everyone reacts to every trigger. You may recognize yours among these common triggers:
May be found in household cleaners and personal care products, such as:
- Formaldehyde – in disinfectants, some vaccines, glues and adhesives.
- Isothiazolinones – an antibacterial agent in personal care products e.g. baby wipes.
- Cocamidopropyl betaine- used to thicken shampoos and lotions.
- Paraphenylenediamine – in leather dyes and temporary tattoos.
- Cosmetics that contain alcohol, perfumes, lanolin or preservatives.
Persons with eczema should be aware of these ingredients and strive to use products free of them. Aim for more natural, organic, hypoallergenic, and fragrance-free products which may cost slightly more but will save the discomfort, stress, time, and money it takes to treat a breakout.
Sunburn is certainly a trigger, so the skin needs to be protected with sunscreen. But be aware that some chemical sunscreens contain triggers. Play it safe by using a sunscreen with zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide as the active ingredients.
People with eczema have a skin barrier that is not intact. This makes skin infection more likely to occur in these individuals. The most common skin infections are staph, warts, molluscum, herpes and fungal infections. To prevent this, it is best to consult with your doctor to know the appropriate antibacterial or antifungal medication to treat your infection.
Usual airborne allergens such as dust mites, pollen, pet dander, and mold are also common eczema triggers. As such, keep your home clean and allergen-free by dusting and vacuuming regularly, and washing your bed sheets weekly.
5) Hot Showers and prolonged exposure to water
Exposing the skin to hot water for long periods when bathing or showering. The hot water dries out the skin and makes it more itchy. The same goes for swimming or sticking around in the pool for long periods. Bathe no more than once a day and for no more than 10 minutes in lukewarm water. Be sure to moisturize you skin right after you shower.
6) Scratching the skin
Scratching can cause a flare-up. Keep your skin moisturized. Also, keep your nails smooth and trimmed so that scratching is not so sharp. Consider wearing cotton gloves at night.
Another trigger for those with sensitive skin is the type of fabric. In particular, polyester and wool are the common materials that cause an eczema flare up. If these materials are the trigger to you, avoid wearing clothes of such material and instead add another layer of clothing to protect your skin.
8) Extreme Temperatures
Some people experience flare-ups when it is very cold; others when it is very hot. In addition, sweating from either hot weather or exercise can result in a flare-up.
Anger, stress, frustration and embarrassment can cause the skin to flush. This then triggers eczema. Stress also affects hormone levels and the immune system and intensifies the symptoms.
Some foods and ingredients may cause a flare-up or worsen your eczema symptoms. Among the usual triggers are sugar, refined carbohydrates, gluten, red meats, and dairy.
If you have a food allergy, you may do an elimination diet to determine which food or ingredients cause or worsen your eczema.
11) Hormonal changes
Aside from stress and anxiety, menopause and pregnancy may also cause hormonal changes – a drop in estrogen – in one’s body and so affect eczema. The decrease in estrogen makes the skin lose its natural moisture and so lead to dryness. This can then worsen eczema.
It is best to moisturize your skin and/or regulate your hormones with the help of your doctor if a hormonal change is a trigger for you.
How should you treat your eczema?
Eczema is treated depending on your triggers. Based on the triggers we listed above, the following are the common treatments that a doctor would recommend.
Oral allergy medications and topical corticosteroid creams are the typical medications that would be prescribed.
The allergy medications are typically advised to be taken year-round to avoid eczema symptoms. On the other hand, steroid creams may be applied to the skin for short-term relief.
In severe cases, a doctor may also prescribe immunosuppressant drugs to slow down the immune responses.
Antihistamines are an over-the-counter drug that may prevent flare-ups of eczema symptoms by reducing your urge to scratch the rashes.
In severe cases of allergy, a doctor may prescribe allergy shots or allergen immunotherapy. The concept of immunotherapy is to help your body build immunity against your allergens through allergy shots. These “shots” contain small amounts of the substances you are allergic to, then slowly being increased in dosage over a few months.
Home-made natural treatments
One common natural treatment is the oatmeal bath. With lukewarm water, oatmeal can soothe skin itchiness and any discomfort due to eczema rashes.
Another is the use of probiotics and prebiotics to stabilize your microbiome and so help in treating skin inflammation.
For a knowledgeable consultation contact us or book an appointment online now. Our lead physician, Dr. Ife J. Rodney MD, FAAD is a top medical, cosmetic and surgical dermatologist. We are conveniently located in Fulton, MD. We serve Columbia MD, Clarksville, Silver Spring, Laurel, Ellicott City and surrounding areas in Howard County, Maryland.