Treatment When Your Eczema Gets Worse

If you’ve tried home remedies and over-the-counter creams for your eczema and nothing’s done the trick, don’t lose hope. Other treatments may be able to soothe your skin and get your symptoms in check.

Steroids: If you’re in a severe flare, your doctor may prescribe a steroid cream, shot, or pill. Because steroids are good at easing inflammation, they’ll make you feel better quickly. But they can cause side effects, including insomnia and irritability. Be sure to take them for the full prescribed time, as other problems can occur by stopping abruptly.

Be aware that once the steroids clear your system, your symptoms may come back. You can help prevent this by taking good care of your skin.

Antihistamines: These drugs won’t stop a flare, but they may be able to relieve itching. Diphenhydramine (Benadryl), which you can buy at the store, is a good choice. So are hydroxyzine (Atarax) and cyproheptadine (Periactin), which your doctor can prescribe. Take them at night, as all of these will make you sleepy.

Drugs that turn down your immune system: Some steroid-free drugs can stop your immune system from overreacting and attacking your skin. Cyclosporine, methotrexate, and mycophenolate are pills taken by mouth to ease itching and give your skin a chance to heal. But they do come with side effects like increased blood pressure and an upset stomach. They also put you at an increased risk for infections and cancer.

Crisaborole (Eucrisa), pimecrolimus (Elidel), and tacrolimus (Protopc) are creams or ointments that can treat itching and rashes caused by eczema. Because there may be a rare link between these drugs and skin cancer, you should only use them for short periods of time. They should never be given to people with chronic health problems or to children younger than 2.

Phototherapy: If your doctor suggests “light therapy,” you’ll sit under a special machine that emits UVB light. UVB rays are the type that can give you a sunburn. But when you’re exposed to very small amounts, they actually help your skin.

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UVB rays can reduce itching and inflammation. They can also help your skin resist bacteria that can cause infections. Up to 70% of people with stubborn eczema see their symptoms improve after about a month of light therapy.

Antibiotics: Antibiotics won’t relieve your itching or skin redness. Still, you may take them if your eczema gets infected.

Talk therapy: Having eczema can make you feel anxious, angry, or hopeless. The stress you feel can make your skin worse. Talking to a therapist or counselor can help you realize that you do have some control over your health -- or at least how you react to it.

You can also join a support group with others who have eczema and are dealing with many of the same feelings.

Stress reduction: If you’re not at ease talking with a therapist, there are other ways to ease your stress.

Hypnosis, guided imagery, and meditation have all been shown to help ease eczema symptoms. You can also try biofeedback. During a treatment session, sensors attached to your body will measure your heart rate, muscle tension, and brain waves. Once you learn what it feels like when your body is upset or stressed, you can learn to calm yourself.

Diet changes: A certain food is likely not the only cause of your eczema, but it could play a part.

Certain foods may trigger a change in your skin within minutes or cause a flare days later. If you’re having a hard time clearing up your eczema with medicines, your doctor could suggest you try a food elimination diet. You may also need to be tested for food allergies. This can confirm which foods are making your skin worse so you know to avoid them.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Stephanie S. Gardner, MD on June 04, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Katta, R. Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, March 2014.

Walling, H. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, published online July 28, 2010.

National Eczema Association: “Phototherapy;” “Immunosuppresants;” and “Topical Cacineurin Inhibitors.”

FDA: “Public Health Advisory: Elidel (pimecrolimus) Cream and Protopic (tacrolimus) Ointment.”

UpToDate: “Patient Information: Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema): Beyond the Basics,”

American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, “Eczema;” “Oral Steroids;” and “Phototherapy: UVB.”

ChoosingWisely.org: “Antibiotics for your Skin.”

National Institute for Health and Care Excellence: “Alitretinoin for the treatment of severe chronic hand eczema.”

Ghasri, P. Clinical, Cosmetic and Investigational Dermatology, published online April 19, 2010.

American Psychological Association: “The Link Between Skin and Psychology.”

Lahey Hospital & Medical Center: “Understanding Biofeedback.”

McMenamy, C. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, September 1988.

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