How to Live Better With Eczema

When you have a flare-up of itchy, irritated skin from eczema, you feel like you’d do anything to calm down or prevent your rashes. These days, there are many ways to keep your eczema under control.

What Is Eczema?

You may hear your doctor call it dermatitis. It’s a red, itchy skin rash. It may go away for a while, then flare up again.

You may have chronic or long-lasting eczema. Or it might just flare up after you touch something or in certain settings.

Dry skin or sweat, scratchy wool clothes, pet dander, hot or cold weather, and harsh soaps and cleansers are common triggers. Some people with eczema also get asthma or hay fever.

Why Do You Get It?

It’s hard to say what causes eczema. Your genes may play a role. If others in your family are prone to these rashes, you may be, too. A weak or haywire immune system can cause a flare-up.

Healthy, supple skin protects you. If yours gets too dry, it may not be able to block out tiny bacteria or allergens that cause eczema.

Some people are more likely to get eczema than others. This includes African-Americans, people who work in health care or childcare, and those who live in cold climates or cities with lots of air pollution.

Eczema is common in babies and kids. You may just call it sensitive skin. You might grow out of it or you could have it on and off for life.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Your doctor can tell if you have eczema based on your symptoms, medical and family history, and what seems to trigger your outbreaks. You may need to see a dermatologist -- a doctor who specializes in skin conditions.

There’s no test to prove that you have eczema. But your doctor may try skin patch tests to see if certain foods or products cause a rash.

Work with your doctor to find the right treatments for you. Your symptoms, age, family history, other health problems, and lifestyle help you find treatments that work. Most eczema treatments give you short-term relief.

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Your doctor can prescribe a steroid cream to stop the itch and clear your rash, or topical creams called calcineurin inhibitors like pimecolimus (Elidel) or tacrolimus (Protopic) that protect your skin and prevent eczema outbreaks. Hydrocortisone cream is available over the counter (OTC) and eases mild itching. Eucrisa ointment is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory topical treatment that may help reduce redness and itchiness in mild to moderate atopic dermatitis.

For a severe outbreak, apply steroid cream and then wrap a wet bandage around the area to keep it moist. Light therapy from the sun or with a UV-ray device at your doctor’s office may ease outbreaks, too.

For strong eczema itching that even keeps you up at night, try oral antihistamines. Diphenhydramine can stop itching and help you sleep. Fexofenadine, cetirizine, and other antihistamines can ease flares and itching but don’t make you drowsy. They’re all available OTC.

Your doctor may also prescribe oral corticosteroids or give you a steroid shot for a strong eczema flare. If you scratch your itchy rash and break the skin, you might need antibiotics to prevent an infection.

For moderate to severe eczema that is not controlled by topical medications or when topical medicines cannot be used, dupilumab (Dupixent) may be prescribed. This medicine is given every two weeks as an injection under the skin.

Work with your doctor to treat your eczema. Some drugs or remedies for eczema, like steroids, can cause side effects if you use them too long or too often.

Prevent Flares, Feel Better

There are many things that could set off an eczema flare. You may not have the same triggers as someone else. It pays to figure out what causes your skin to react.

Dry skin. If your skin gets too dry, it can become rough and itchy. It might even crack. That can let bacteria or allergens inside. Dry skin is a common eczema trigger for many people. Extreme changes in temperature can stress your skin, too.

Tips: Keep your skin moist -- especially in winter, when the air can be very dry. Use a humidifier to moisten the air in your bedroom when you sleep. Apply body lotion after you get out of a shower or bath. Soak in a warm bath with small amounts of bleach, baking soda, bath oil, or colloidal oatmeal added to ease eczema itching and moisten your skin.

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Irritants. Products you use every day may bother your skin. Soap, cleansers, body wash, laundry detergent, lotions, or even some foods you touch can trigger eczema rashes.

Tips: Talk to your doctor to pinpoint what may irritate your skin. She can test how your skin reacts to certain products. Keep track of anything you use that seems to trigger a flare after you touch it. Choose soaps, cleansers, or laundry detergent without added perfumes or dyes. These are common eczema triggers.

Clothing. Fabrics that are rough, too tight, or itchy can trigger eczema. Clothes that are too warm or heavy can make you sweat and cause a flare, too.

Tips: Opt for soft clothes that are gentle on your skin and keep it cool. If wool or other fabrics seem to bother you, don’t wear them. Find wool-free garments to keep you warm in winter. Wear loose items that don’t rub against your skin.

Dust, smoke, pet dander, and sand. Tiny particles in the air can cause a rash or irritate your skin. You might be allergic to pet dander from cats or dogs. Maybe cigarette smoke or a dusty house are to blame.

Tips: Keep your home or office area clean. Dust often. Don’t smoke or hang out with people who do. If you think you’re allergic to pet hair or dander, talk to your doctor or see an allergist, a doctor who specializes in treating allergies.

Stress and anxiety. Worry can make your eczema flare up. Plus itchy, sore skin can also stress you out. It can be an endless cycle if you don’t break it.

Tips: Find ways to relax in times of stress. Make sure you get enough sleep at night so you feel refreshed the next day. Aromatherapy, massage therapy, and soaks in a warm bath may help you ease tension. Get help if you can’t keep your stress under control.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on June 22, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Mayo Clinic: Atopic dermatitis (eczema): “Alternative medicine,” “Causes,” “Lifestyle and home remedies,” “Risk factors,” “Treatments and drugs.”

American Academy of Dermatology: “Different kinds of eczema,” “What is eczema.”

National Eczema Society: “Topical Steroids,” “What is Eczema?”

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases: “What Is Atopic Dermatitis?”

American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: “Antihistamines,” “Eczema.”

National Eczema Association: “Itching for relief.”

British Journal of Dermatology: “The effect of environmental tobacco smoke on eczema and allergic sensitization in children.”

FDA: “FDA approves new eczema drug Dupixent.”

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