Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is a skin condition that can affect everyone, and children are especially prone. Eczema can be an inherited condition, but it also relates to your allergies and defects in your skin barrier. Your body is capable of fighting off eczema, but it is easy to prolong it or make it worse. There are many ways to prevent the worsening of your eczema and the development of complications. If you take steps to reduce your symptoms, make yourself more comfortable, and keep your skin healthy, your eczema will disappear in no time. Typically, eczema treatment involves hydrating the skin and reducing inflammation through corticosteroid-based cream.
EditIdentifying the Causes of Eczema
- Determine which symptoms of eczema you have. This could be dry skin, itching, redness, rashes, scaly skin, oozing, crusting, swelling, and/or dark colored patches of skin. Make an appointment to see your doctor to make sure you don’t have any complications or related conditions. They can also prescribe a treatment plan for your individual symptoms. In the meantime, however, there are steps you can take to decrease your flare ups.
- Try to determine what causes your flare ups. Have you just bought a new shower gel? Does your new job require to wash your hands more than you usually would? If nothing has changed recently in your life that you think could have caused a flare up, it may be that some of the ingredients in products you use every day have changed.
- Take a thorough look through all of your household items, and see if at least one of them could be causing or exacerbating your eczema. Does anything make it better or worse if you eliminate something, like your lotion or your face wash?
- Inspect your clothing. If your flare up is located on a patch of skin covered by clothing, there is a good chance that might be the cause. If you find that clothing is causing eczema because of the way it is washed, you only need to change your laundry detergent. If it is due to the fabrics and materials themselves, you may need to get rid of that article of clothing.
- Next time you wash your clothes, make sure they are rinsed of detergent completely. If you still have skin problems, the problem could be with a certain article of clothing.
- The rivets or buttons may be giving you eczema. Check clothing for rivets or snaps that may contain nickel.
- Your skin may have a sensitivity or allergy to a blend of fabric. If changing detergents did not help, you may need to quit wearing that article of clothing.
- Consider other environmental factors. Have you been exposed to abnormal levels of poor air quality, bacteria and viruses, heat or humidity, chemicals, or dust and pollen? Have you been sweating or had higher levels of stress than normal? Are you in the midst of a season change? If any of these are true, it is possible that returning to a normal lifestyle will allow your eczema to subside.
- Assess known and unknown food allergies. Eczema is a symptom of some food allergies, such as dairy, nuts, and shellfish. If you have persistent eczema with no identifiable environmental risk factors, see a doctor. They will be able to test you for food allergies and determine if that is the cause of your eczema.
- See a professional. You should not hesitate in making an appointment with an allergist or dermatologist if your eczema is negatively affecting your life. A professional will be able to help you determine what’s causing your eczema and how you can treat it.
EditReducing and Preventing Eczema
- Establish a healthy diet. While doctors and scientists do not believe a poor diet can cause eczema, healthy foods go a long way in promoting total body health. Opt for foods rich in vitamins and nutrients over those loaded with preservatives and empty calories. Eating good foods will improve much more than your skin health.
- Try adding fish oil capsules to your diet. Check sensitivity to pork and food dyes. Seafood has also been known to incur an allergic reaction.
- Use detergents designed for sensitive skin. Bargain brands often contain harsh chemicals that can strip away the skin’s protective oils. Use only the recommended amount to ensure that your washer will be able to rinse it all out. Try to buy new clothing without tags, and make sure you wash it before the first wear.
- Use soaps and shampoos designed for sensitive skin. If you are treating a flare up, alternative bathing methods may be necessary. When the flare up subsides, look for soaps and shampoos designed to promote healthy, moisturized skin. Stay away from soaps and shampoos containing dyes and perfumes.
- Use moisturizers designed for sensitive skin. When treating an eczema flare up, look for moisturizers that are designed to control itching and inflammation, repair the skin, and fight infection. When the flare up subsides, switch back to an everyday sensitive skin moisturizer. See this guide for more on choosing the right moisturizer.
- Don’t scratch the itch. This includes licking your lips as well, if that is the affected area. There are several ways to reduce itchiness from eczema. Make sure your skin is moisturized by keeping the house humid and applying moisturizer throughout the day. Keep your fingernails short and smooth so that absent-minded itching is less harmful to your skin – but keep an eye on your hands!
- Avoid direct sunlight exposure to skin. In normal circumstances, a degree of sunlight is beneficial for your skin as a source of vitamin D. In fact, many eczema patients report that sunlight helps their symptoms in general. However, prolonged exposure to sunlight can also make your rash worse. If you’re going to be outside for a long time, cover affected areas with clothing, if possible, to minimize damage from sunlight.
- Be especially careful about the sun if you’re using corticosteroid-based cream. If you use this cream, your skin will be especially susceptible to sunburn, so you should keep your affected skin out of direct sunlight.
- Keep skin moisturized throughout the day. Remember to reapply moisturizer as often as recommended on the packaging. Make sure to moisturize at bedtime to get your skin prepared for the next day. You should also reapply moisturizer after getting out of the shower, as that process can remove your skin’s oils that keep you moisturized. For more on moisturizing, see [Moisturize Your Skin|this guide].
- Reduce and manage stress. While stress may not cause eczema, it can contribute to its worsening and persistence. Try to reduce pressure in your life. Learn how to meditate or use relaxation exercises. Make sure you reach out to those around you to help you manage your stress.
EditTreating Eczema Flare Ups
- Take oatmeal baths. This method is the most famous and time-honored for a reason. Soak in a bath with oatmeal for 10-15 minutes daily to reduce your eczema flare up. Kits for oatmeal baths are available in most pharmacies. Make sure to follow the instructions and amounts recommended on the packaging.
- Consider alternate bathing methods. While the oatmeal bath is the most widely accepted and practiced way to reduce itching, some experts prefer other methods. Make sure you consider the risks of the more alternative methods, and consult your doctor if you are unsure. Depending on your skin type and other factors, some methods make work better than others.
- Bleach baths are the most debated method for treating eczema because of the assumed harshness of the chemical. Make sure to use 6% bleach. Add ½ cup for a full bathtub and ¼ cup for a half bath.
- Add vinegar (between a cup and a pint), salt (one cup), or baking soda (maximum of ¼ cup) to your bath. Vinegar kills bacteria, salt makes water less painful to enter, and baking soda can relieve itchiness.
- Specially designed bath oils can help reduce symptoms of eczema. Follow the instructions on the packaging.
- Take oral medication or apply creams. These can reduce the symptoms of eczema to allow it to heal properly. Look for over-the-counter oral medications that contain antihistamines to reduce itching — but beware, they make you drowsy. Prescription or over-the-counter creams that contain hydrocortisone can help with itching as well. Make sure you are also moisturizing because they do not always do both jobs.
- If scratched eczema starts to smell, or seems to be weeping or bleeding excessively, see a doctor immediately. These symptoms indicate that you have an infection that requires medical treatment.
- Be aware of possible allergic reactions to some treatments. Discontinue immediately if allergic symptoms occur, such as hives, swelling, rash, and trouble breathing or swallowing.
- Topical steroids like hydrocortisone are only a temporary solution. They do not prevent flare ups, but rather makes flare ups easier to tolerate. Be careful when using steroid-based creams, as they may cause skin thinning and increase your susceptibility to skin infections, which in turn exacerbate eczema. Use only under the direction of a dermatologist, and, in general, use a limited amount of steroids for the shortest amount of time possible.