Could itchy skin be worse than a life-threatening health condition like diabetes or high blood pressure? When scientist asked 92 adults with severage eczema about the quality of their daily lives, they reported that having one of those serious medical problems might be easier than dealing with itchy, bumpy, scaly, skin all the time. Half said they would trade up two hours a day of their lives for normal skin, and 74 vowed they’d spend over $1,000 for a cure. Experts are still trying to identify the culprits behind eczema. While the causes aren’t fully understood, allergies, dry skin, and low levels of a skin-protecting protein may play roles. But eczema eruptions don’t have to rule your life. These strategies can help you avoid flare-ups and outsmart the “itch, scratch, itch” cycle that can make skin worse when you do have one.
Avoid Hidden Trigger
Many everyday can rub hypersensitive skin the wrong way. Among them: perfumes and dyes in laundry and personal care products, dust, cigarette smoke, walking barefoot in sand (or letting it rub the creases of your legs or arms at the beach), and chlorine or bromine left on the skin after swimming in a pool or soaking a hot tub. Avoid them or get them off your skin as soon as possible. Sunburn is another trigger.
Bathe Less Often
Long, hot baths or showers can take the natural oils out of skin, making it drier and more easily irritated. While some experts recommend a long soak in a tepid tub to soothe skin, many others say it’s better to go a day or two between showers or baths. When you do wash up, keep it short and use warm – not hot – water. Use a mild soap that’s not too drying; avoid antibacterial or deodorant soaps, which may strip more moisture from your skin. In fact, use soap only where you really need it: on your face, underarms, genitals, hands, and feet. Try using just water everywhere else. When you’re done, pat yourself dry, then slather on moisturizer.
Keep Your Skin Super-Moist
If you have eczema, you know firsthand how dry, itchy, and sensitive your skin is, and that dryness makes itching and rashes even worse. That’s why it’s important to apply a thick layer of moisturizer once or twice a day to seal the water in the top layer of skin. Keeping your skin moist may mean you’ll need les steroid cream to control rashes. In a Spanish study of 173 kids with eczema, those who were slathered daily with moisturizers needed 42 percent less high-potency steroid cream.
Be sure to apply moisturizer generously. In a German study of 30 adults with eczema, those who apply the amount theirs doctor recommended saw their itching, dryness, and skin crusting improve about 30 percent more than those who skimped. If you’re using moisturizer and a steroid cream, apply the steroid first.
Keep A Steroid Cream Handy
Steroid creams, ointments, gels, and lotions can’t cure eczema. But when it flares, they’re the best choice for controlling it. The catch: Overuse (more than four continuous weeks) can lead to thinning of the skin, reduced bone density in adults, and growth problems in kids – but these sides effect are rare. In fact, some researchers say fear of steroid creams can have worse side effects than the creams themselves. In one British study of 200 people with eczema 73 percent admitted to being worried about using a steroid cream, and 24 percent admitted to skimping on or not skipping the treatment as a result. But studies show that smart use brigs relief, usually without problems.
If you’re worried about stronger creams recommended by your doctor, remember that they’re safe and very effective when used as directed. When British researchers followed 174 kids and teens with mild to moderate eczema for 18 weeks, they found that when treating flare-ups, three days of high-dose cream worked as well as seven days of a low-dose cream. Both groups have the same number of itchy-free days and neither showed signs of skin thinning.
Get Tested For Allergies
Pet dander, pollen, and dust mites can all trigger eczema flare-ups. In fact, one Scandinavian study of 45 people with eczema found that everyone with severe skin problems was allergic to at least one of these airborne troublemakers. But before you give the cat away, get an allergy test. It makes sense to know who (or what) the enemy is before you launch all-out battle.
Experts have conflicting opinions about the effectiveness of strategies for avoiding allergens at home (such as removing carpets, keeping pets out of the bedroom, and covering mattress and pillows with allergen-proof covers). While some recommend it studies tend to show that these steps often don’t reduce eczema flare-ups, simply because it’s tough to keep the air completely allergen free. What can help: Allergy shot. In one German study of 89 people with eczema who were allergic to dust mites, those who got immunotherapy had an easier time keeping their eczema under control than those who didn’t have the shots.
Consider Food Allergies
Allergies to milk, wheat, and other food may sometimes cause flare-up in kids with eczema. While food allergies are usually rare among adults with severe eczema were allergic to at least one food. Before you start cutting whole food groups out of your diet on your own, though, talk to an allergist, a dietitian, or an naturopath about the best way to test yourself. Often this involves keeping a detailed food diary, removing one suspect food from your diet for several weeks, and then eating it again to see what happens.
Try An Immunomodulator Cream For Severe Eczema
If moisturizers and steroid creams don’t control outbreaks, an immunomodulator cream could help. Tacrolimus (Protopic) and pimecrolimus (Elidel) reduce eczema symptoms by 50 percent or more, say British researchers who reviewed 31 well-designed studies. The verdict: A 0.1 percent tacrolimus cream may be your best bet. It was about 42 percent more effective than pimecrolimus.
Tacrolimus ointment and pimecrolimus cream don’t have the skin thinning and other side effects of steroid creams, so they are often used for sensitive areas like the face or body folds. They can also be used for long-term control of eczema. Talk to your doctor about the “black box” cautions on the drugs, which warn of increased risk of skin cancer and lymphoma. Major medical weak and that these well-intentioned warnings may keep people from getting the eczema relief they need.
Soothe Your Emotions
Several studies have linked stress and anxiety with eczema outbreaks. If anger, frustration, or stress seems to trigger a rash, consider adding a little “emotional therapy” to your skin care routine. Studies show that relaxation therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (find a therapist trained in it), and biofeedback can all help. For best results, ask your dermatologist for a reference to a psychologist or program specifically for people with skin conditions.
Dress For Comfort
Rough, scratchy fabrics and clothing that’s too tight can irritate sensitive skin. Instead, choose smooth cotton weaves and knits to avoid irritation and allow skin to breathe. Avoid itchy wool and synthetic fabrics that trap sweat.
Wash all new clothes before you wear them to remove irritating chemicals used to make them look smooth and wrinkle free in the store. If you suspect that your laundry detergent or fabric softener is irritating your skin, switch to products without perfumes or dyes and rinse clothes twice in the washing machine.
Keep Your Home’s Temperature And Humidity Levels Comfortable
Too much humidity in the air can make you sweat; too little can leave skin parched and flaky. Both situations can prompt an eczema flare-up. Keeps yours humidity level comfortable by using an air conditional in a summer and a humidifier in winter if your heating system dries out the air too much. Research suggests that big temperature swings can also trigger flare-ups, so keep the temperature on an even keel.
Keep Using Your Medications
A recent study showed that patients’ use of medication recommended for eczema dropped by 60 percent within three days starting treatment – maybe because their skin improved quickly or because they were afraid side effects. Let your doctor know if you have any concerns about the treatment and how often you really use the medications so he can plan the treatment that’s best for you.
While many experts have traditionally believed that allergies trigger eczema, there’s evidence that a genetic quirk that makes skin fragile could be behind many eczema cases. Researchers in Ireland and Scotland have found a lack of filaggrin, a compound that normally makes the skin’s outer layer watertight, in up to half of adults and kids with eczema. The result: The skin dries out, and particles of dust, pollen – virtually anything – from the outside can creep in, causing irritation. While experts continue investigating this intriguing clue, researchers say it underscores the importance of protecting eczema-prone skin by slathering on moisturizers.