Anyone who has experienced the discomfort of eczema knows that it is much more than just having a persistent itch. Depending on the severity, eczema can be unsightly, sore, and prevent you from enjoying day-to-day activities.
The majority of those who suffer from atopic dermatitis experience some form of this rash as a child, although some may never have any sign of it until adulthood. Some people have an outbreak only a couple of times in their life, while for others, it is a persistent and uncomfortable reality most of the time
What is Eczema?
Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, is an often painful condition that causes the skin to be red, sore, and itchy. Eczema is more common in childhood, but it can affect anyone at any age and can be triggered by a variety of elements. Common illnesses that can accompany eczema are asthma or seasonal allergies.
There is no cure for atopic dermatitis, but there are a variety of things you can do to help manage outbreaks and treatments that are available to help ease or eliminate a rash or outbreak, albeit temporarily.
Symptoms of Eczema
Symptoms of eczema, vary drastically from person to person and can change over time or with the irritant, but common symptoms include:
- Itching that may be persistent and severe
- Severely dry skin
- Cracked or scaly skin that is thick
- Raised bumps that may fill with fluid and become crusty when scratched
- Reddish or brownish patches of skin may appear on various parts of the body, including hands, feet, elbow, knees, neck, chest, face, and scalp
Eczema is likely to be inherited from your gene pool, but it can also present in someone who has no history of dermatitis. Whatever your case may be, we are here to navigate you through eczema triggers you should avoid, and live more comfortably in your skin.
One of the biggest eczema triggers is food, which is no surprise since food is ingested directly into our bodies and we are what we eat; in essence. Examples of foods that are known to contain ingredients that cause inflammation include; refined carbohydrates, sugar, red meats, dairy, and gluten.
Eating foods that you are allergic to can cause or trigger eczema or worsen the symptoms, so that is another reason to avoid those foods. If you do not have any known food allergies, keep track of what you eat and when you experience flare-ups. You might find that a particular food correlates to your rash appearing or worsening.
You may not realize that you have an intolerance to dairy, for example, until you can link your dairy consumption to a worsening rash. Be sure to reduce the foods that you can link to an eczema break-out and stop consuming that food. Continue to write down your symptoms and whether or not they lesson or disappear once you stop consuming a certain food.
Once your rash improves, you may slowly reintroduce the food, dairy for example, into your diet. If you notice that the rash comes back, it is more than likely you are allergic to dairy and should consult your physician for further testing.
2. Showering or Bathing in Hot Water
It may not be as satisfying as a steaming hot shower, but dermatologists recommend keeping the temperature of water you are cleaning in at a lukewarm or cool temperature and then pat, do not rub, skin dry. Since the skin absorbs maximum moisture from lotions for a mere 30 seconds after drying, apply lotion immediately upon getting out of your bath or shower.
3. Avoid Extreme Heat or Cold
During warmer weather, prolonged exposure to the sun or heat can cause people to break out into a rash. Avoid going into saunas, hot tubs, laying in the sun, or anything else that will cause you to overheat and sweat.
In the fall and winter months, cold or dry weather can trigger eczema rashes and cause cracked or itchy skin. Protect your hands with lotion and gloves that will protect against the elements.
4. Lack of Moisturizer
If you are someone who suffers from eczema, you will need to apply moisturizer diligently, every day, multiple times a day to avoid your skin becoming dry. There are creams that your dermatologist may recommend, or you could try using a lotion from the drugstore that is dye and fragrance-free.
Some trusted creams to keep your skin moisturizers are available over the counter to include Vaseline brand, CeraVe, Curel, and more. Be sure to apply at least twice daily or as directed by your doctor.
5. Anxiety and Stress
When we are anxious or experiencing a lot of stress, it is common for our bodies to react, and this includes skin break-out, irritations, and drying. While stress and anxiety don’t directly cause eczema, they will provoke symptoms.
When you are stressed, your body releases cortisol, a hormone. When released in large amounts, such as chronic stress or anxiety, cortisol will increase inflammation in your body, leading to eczema triggering.
If you are someone who feels continuously anxious or stressed, there are steps you can take to help minimize the possibility of an eczema flare-up. Meditation is a great way to relieve stress, deep breathing exercises, make sure you are getting plenty of rest, and get regular exercise.
If you can take these steps toward calming your anxiety and stress, it may go a long way to ensuring you do not experience a severe reaction.
Some laundry detergents use harsh scents or chemicals that can irritate the skin, especially those with sensitive skin. Try using a detergent that is fragrance and dye-free instead of a harsher mix with bleaches or softener.
There are ‘green’ products that are environmentally friendly, and free of harsh additives, and are gentle on the skin.
7. Fabrics and Metals
If you are prone to eczema, you will most likely want to avoid any materials that are itchy or rough on the skin, especially wools, mohair, or materials that don’t allow the skin to breathe, like nylon or polyester.
Loose cotton will allow your skin to breathe and offer a more comfortable fit. Make sure you wash your clothes before wearing them to ensure any chemical that was added or dye that was used, is washed away.
If you wear jewelry often, you may have already found out that nickel is a common cause of a rash, specifically, contact allergic dermatitis. When someone is allergic to a metal, particularly nickel, eczema will break-out wherever the metal comes in contact with the skin.
Contact dermatitis affects the earlobes, wrists, neck, or lower abdomen due. The rash is due to jewelry or metal from belt buckles coming in contact with the skin. These areas may become itchy, and even blister or skin may appear rough and a brownish color.
Similar to foods causing an eczema outbreak, household, pet, or outdoor allergies can promote a flare-up or rash as well. Allergens are something that those who suffer from eczema have to worry about in the spring and summer when plants and flowers are in bloom, and the fall and winter when they are indoors, and the dust settles and, furnaces are turned on for the first time, releasing more dust into the house.
If you have allergies to pet dander, pollen, mold, dust mites, etc., it’s best to avoid them altogether. If you have carpets, vacuum them regularly so that dust and mites aren’t trapped and re-released into your home. Wash bedding weekly in hot water, and either dust or replace drapes that catch dust.
The best possible solution for your home is a hardwood or laminate option for flooring, and lite, easily cleaned drapes or blinds.
Exercise is essential for your health. But if you suffer from dry, itchy skin, there are precautions you need to take to avoid an outbreak. Make sure you are taking breaks to cool down during your workout, wear light clothing, and stay hydrated.
The best time to exercise is when the weather is mild, or indoors to avoid getting too hot. Just like drying after the shower, dab sweat off your body, don’t rub. Swimming is a great way to exercise, avoid sweating, and staying cool all at the same time. If you swim in a chlorine pool or a body of water that may have irritants, be sure to shower immediately afterward and apply lotion.
10. Cleaning Products
For obvious reasons, cleaning products can contain several ingredients that trigger eczema flare-ups. Instead of using harsh cleaners or scouring pads, try using an environmentally friendly alternative. Environmentally friendly, or ‘green’ cleaners often use natural ingredients that you would find in nature.
Another option is making your cleaning product from simple components, such as vinegar, lemon juice, baking soda, and other ingredients that won’t cause a rash. If you must use a cleaner for a tough job, wear cotton gloves underneath cleaning gloves so that your skin does not come in contact with the abrasive product.
Some complications that may arise as a result of atopic dermatitis include:
- A chronic condition called neurodermatitis can occur; itchy skin that presents as scaly. It is important not to scratch these areas, as it will only irritate them and make them itchier.
- There is a great chance of asthma or hay fever developing after a child has presented with eczema.
- Loss of sleep is a common occurrence due to the uncomfortable nature of constantly itching and sore skin.
- Dermatitis on the hands is common in people who wash their hands frequently, especially with harsh soaps. Some of these people work in healthcare, childcare, the mechanical industry, etc.
- Skin infections ( from the herpes simplex virus)
- are known to have happened in someone that has severe rashes due to eczema. Open wounds are open to the risk of infection from viruses or bacteria.
What Can Help
Some of the home remedies or lifestyle choices you can make to manage your dermatitis and get comfort are listed below:
- Moisturize: Apply moisturizer to your skin at least twice a day, preferably after bathing or washing your hands. Applying moisturizers can help keep your skin supple and avoid drying out and severe rashes occurring.
- Anti-inflammatory products: There are plenty of over-the-counter creams that you can buy at any drug store that will help relieve itching and redness. Ask a pharmacist which creams are best for the condition that you have, such as cortisone cream.
- Warm bath: Colloidal oatmeal or baking soda added to a warm (not hot) bath will help soothe itching and dry skin.
- Cool cloth: A wet, cool cloth will help soothe your skin and may relieve soreness and itching temporarily.
- Bleach or vinegar bath: We would suggest you speak to your dermatologist or family doctor before trying this bleach or vinegar bath. Some people have found relief and benefit from having a diluted bleach bath (½ cup bleach to 40 gallons of warm water) or a vinegar bath (1 cup vinegar to a bathtub of water). If advised, repeat up to 3 times per week.
- Medicated shampoo: If you have scalp dandruff, shampoos containing zinc pyrithione, coal tar, selenium sulfide, or ketoconazole, could help with itchiness and flakes.
- No scratching: Avoid rubbing or scratching the affected area to avoid causing bleeding and inviting infection. If you find that you scratch yourself in your sleep, try wearing gloves so that you won’t do as much damage.
When to See a Doctor
If you are experiencing a rash severe enough that it affects your daily life, or is painful, you should see a doctor. Your family doctor can certainly prescribe some medicated creams to help ease the pain of the rash. You may need to get a proper diagnosis from a dermatologist (skin specialist).
Prepare for an Appointment
To provide all necessary information and get a clear diagnosis as your rash may have lessened, worsened, or changed location, it is good to make a list of your questions:
- When did your symptoms begin, and what were they?
- Have you found anything that triggers eczema in your diet or household?
- List of medications or ointments that you use or take regularly.
- Have you tried anything to help the problem so far?
- Is there a history of asthma or allergies (hay fever) in your family?
What Your Doctor will Likely do
To treat your condition effectively, your doctor will first get an idea of what you have been going through and then introduce a possible preventative solution or method of treatment.
Some of the things your doctor might ask you or prescribe or suggest for relief include:
- Do you suffer from your symptoms regularly?
- How often do you bathe or shower and at what temperature of the water?
- Types of cleaning products you use around your house.
- What make-up or soaps and lotions do you use on your skin?
- Are you under stress or are you anxious or depressed?
- What possible irritants are you exposed to?
- Is your sleep or quality of life disrupted due to your symptoms?
- Does your job expose you to irritants?
Creams: You may be prescribed a corticosteroid cream or an ointment by your doctor. The cream or ointment will help to relieve the severity of the symptoms, but it may also cause thinning skin.
Creams, called calcineurin inhibitors, may be prescribed, but they may affect your immune system. These drugs also warn that there is a chance of cancer as a result of using these drugs.
Drugs that combat infection: If you have a bacterial infection in your skin, your doctor may suggest a prescription for an antibiotic cream to help heal open sores. They may also suggest you take antibiotics orally to help treat the infection.
Drugs for inflammation: If your case is severe, your doctor may prescribe corticosteroids, like prednisone, taken orally. These drugs are effective but can cause long term side-effects. Have your doctor go over the pros and cons of taking this medication.
If you suffer from itchy, red, dry, bumpy skin, you could suffer from eczema. By following preventative measures, you could manage symptoms on your own. If you find that the discomfort continues, contact your physician to put a treatment plan in place.