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Slideshow: Living with Eczema

Bathing With Eczema

When you have eczema, how you wash your skin is important. Take a short, warm (not hot) bath or shower every day. Use a gentle cleanser instead of soap and avoid scrubbing your skin. Pat your skin slightly dry. While your skin is still damp, apply moisturizer within 3 minutes to seal in moisture. An oatmeal bath can help control itching. But for your baby or child, ask your health care provider before using oatmeal products in the bath.

Moisturizing 101

The best way to soothe the dry, itchy skin of atopic dermatitis -- the most common type of eczema -- is to moisturize. Creams and ointments are more effective than lotions. And petroleum jelly works well after a bath. Be sure to choose moisturizers without fragrances or ingredients like alcohol that can actually dry skin. Moisturize two to three times a day, including after bathing and every time you wash your hands.

Don't Scratch the Itch

Try not to scratch or rub your skin when it itches. This will only worsen the itch and inflammation. When you scratch, you can break the skin and open it up to infection. Instead, apply a cold moisturizer or a cool gel to soothe the skin. Keep your child's fingernails clipped short so she can't make the rash worse by scratching. Consider having your child wear light gloves to bed if she scratches while she sleeps.

Eczema and Clothing Tips

With eczema, it helps to wear loose-fitting clothes made out of soft, open-weave, comfortable fabrics like cotton. Avoid irritating fabrics like wool or coarsely woven materials. Wash all new clothes before you wear them in order to remove potentially irritating chemicals like formaldehyde. Use a mild laundry detergent that doesn't have fragrances or dyes. Rinse clothes twice to remove traces of soap.

Avoid Allergens

Although eczema isn't an allergy, having allergies or being exposed to allergens can make symptoms worse. Common allergens that trigger eczema can be foods like eggs, dairy products, wheat, and acidic foods like tomatoes. Dust, mold, pet dander, and pollen also can make eczema flare up. Try to avoid or reduce exposure to allergens. Your health care provider may suggest allergy testing or other therapies to help treat allergies and reduce eczema.

Topical Eczema Treatments

Topical cortisone (steroid) creams or ointments are common eczema treatments. Try over-the-counter hydrocortisone. Or, your health care provider may prescribe something stronger. Prescription topical immunomodulators (TIMs) are OK for adults and children older than 2. They work like steroid creams to reduce inflammation in the skin but can be used longer term. Your health care provider also may suggest creams with ingredients like coal tar or anthralin.

Other Eczema Treatments

Prescription and over-the-counter antihistamine pills can help control eczema itching. Some antihistamines may cause sleepiness and are better taken at night. Your health care provider may prescribe antibiotic creams or pills to clear up bacterial infections. She may also suggest allergy shots if allergens trigger your eczema. Ultraviolet light treatments or steroid pills may help with severe eczema.

Stress and Eczema

Stress can cause eczema to get worse in adults and children. The key to minimizing stress-related eczema is to find ways to reduce stress -- like exercise, meditation, or relaxing hobbies. Parents should learn how to recognize stressful situations -- such as tests and sports competitions -- and teach kids how to manage them. Show them breathing techniques or encourage them to take a break and do something fun.

Watch Your Temperature

When you're too hot or too cold, your eczema can get worse. High temperatures can make you sweat, which can make your skin itchy and irritated. In winter, heated indoor spaces often have low humidity, which dries skin and causes itching. Avoid using lots of blankets so you won't sweat while you sleep. And take a short, lukewarm shower after you exercise.

Psychological Impact of Eczema

Children with eczema often deal with teasing, bullying, and stress that prevents them from sleeping well. One study found that kids with eczema — and their parents — felt that their lives were as bad as kids with more serious diseases. Because eczema is so visible, it can lead to self-esteem issues. If you have a child who is being teased or excluded, talk to the teacher or parents of the children involved.

Use Sunscreen

Always wear sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher in order to avoid getting a sunburn. Sunburn can make your skin even itchier than normal. Try using sunscreens made for the face on your entire body. They are usually less irritating than regular sunscreens. Products containing zinc oxide or titanium oxide also may be less likely to bother your skin.

Your Eczema Prognosis

About half of all children with eczema will outgrow it by the time they are teenagers. They may, however, continue to have dry, irritable skin, and a few will continue to have eczema when they are older. There is no cure for eczema, but you can control it with treatment. Eczema generally occurs more often in winter, when the air is cold and dry.

Detecting and Dealing With Eczema

Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on May 09, 2014

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