10 Tips for Living With Eczema

From the WebMD Archives

If you have eczema, you know how itchy and painful it is. But simple lifestyle changes can go a long way toward treating the condition. Try these 10 tips to help keep your skin feeling soft and comfortable.

1. Know your eczema triggers.

Many things can trigger a flare-up of eczema, from scented soaps to dust mites. The important thing is to learn what your triggers are, and then try to avoid them. "Generally, fragrance is a big no-no for eczema patients," says Andrea Cambio, MD, FAAD, medical director of Cambio Dermatology in southwest Florida. "You should eliminate all products with fragrance -- including soaps, perfumes, cosmetics, and scented body lotions -- from your routine." Instead, look for unscented, mild products without additives or chemicals. Other triggers can include household cleansers, pet dander, grass, gasoline, chemicals, dust mites, and certain foods.

2. Moisturize dry, itchy skin often.

Using moisturizer is one of the best ways to help keep eczema under control. But it’s important to use moisturizer often, especially after washing and bathing. For best results, choose a plain, unscented moisturizer. Look for one that doesn’t contain additives or chemicals, which can irritate skin. Thicker products, such as ointments and creams, usually provide the most protection for your skin.

3. Manage extreme temperatures at home.

Changes in temperature or humidity can often cause eczema to flare up. Although you can’t control the weather, you can try to control the conditions inside your home. When the weather is hot and humid, use air conditioning in your home to stay cool. During cold weather, try using a cool mist humidifier to help keep your skin from becoming too dry.

4. Don’t scratch eczema patches.

Yes, eczema is itchy. But scratching can actually make you itch more. And scratching can also damage your skin and lead to an infection. Instead of scratching, find ways to help control the itch, such as cold compresses, frequent moisturizing, baths, and medications.

5. Keep sweating to a minimum to avoid eczema flare-ups.

For some people, getting overheated or sweating can cause eczema flare-ups. "For these patients, I recommend trying to shower as soon as possible after a workout," says Cambio.

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6. Wear comfortable clothes that don't irritate skin.

Cotton and cotton blends are usually the best choices for people with eczema. Wools and synthetic fabrics, such as polyester, can irritate the skin. Washing new clothing before you wear it can also reduce irritation. Choose a liquid laundry detergent that is mild and unscented. And skip the fabric softener.

7. Watch your stress level to avoid eczema flare-ups.

You’re more likely to have a flare-up when you’re under stress. And yet, the itching and discomfort of eczema can add to stress by making you feel angry and frustrated. To break the cycle of stress, try learning stress reduction techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, biofeedback, or meditation. Getting exercise can also help reduce stress.

8. Follow skin care basics in the shower or bath.

Hot showers or baths are a common cause of eczema flare-ups. "Switch to room-temperature water and save the hot water for a treat once in a while," says Cambio. Avoid scrubbing your skin, and use a gentle cleanser instead of soap on the areas that need it. When you’re done, pat dry and apply moisturizer while your skin is still damp.

9. Protect your hands.

Your hands are often exposed to water and other substances that can irritate them. Protect them by wearing rubber gloves whenever you wash dishes or place your hands in water. Wearing light cotton gloves under the plastic gloves can help absorb sweat and cause less irritation. Cotton gloves can also protect your hands when you’re doing other types of housework. When outside in cold weather, choose leather or cotton gloves to protect your hands from the cold air. Wool gloves may cause irritation.

10. Use eczema medication when needed.

If lifestyle changes alone don’t help your eczema, talk with your doctor about using medication to help ease your eczema symptoms. Your doctor may suggest an over-the-counter cream or oral antihistamine, or suggest a prescription medication. If your doctor has already prescribed a medication, use it as directed.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on November 26, 2012

Sources

SOURCES:

American Academy of Dermatology: EczemaNet: "Preventing Flare-Ups."

Andrea Cambio, MD, FAAD, medical director of Cambio Dermatology, Cape Coral, Fla.

FamilyDoctor.org: "Eczema: Tips on How to Care for Your Skin."

Lawrence Eichenfield, MD, chief of Pediatric Dermatology at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego; professor of Pediatrics and Medicine at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: "Atopic Dermatitis."

Donald V. Belsito, MD, professor of clinical dermatology at Columbia University.

National Eczema Association: "Hand Eczema."

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